COMMENT BY SL WONG: I KEPT wishing the ICCB 2019 sessions were better attended overall, and by Malaysians specifically. I felt embarrassed for the speakers, seeing so many empty seats in rooms or worse, large halls.
I wondered if it was especially disheartening for students or early-career conservationists who had sweated over their presentations.
But poor attendance really felt like a wasted opportunity at two of the three panels featuring Malaysian government decision-makers and operations heads.
Audiences—especially Malaysians—missed out on the chance to listen to, and engage with the civil servants on policy and operations.
At the one session that saw full attendance, the Director-General of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks even happily got into an exchange with a delegate from another country about how best to trap monkeys that had become pests.
The saving point for the two poorly-attended sessions was the quality of engagement.
For example, at the session featuring the Ministry of Education official, three Malaysian activists shared perspectives and asked probing questions on STEM education. These ranged from the inclusion of conservation subjects, to collaborating with NGOs and scientists, and funding.
The official fielded all these questions, and one impression that struck me in his answers was the limitations the Ministry was facing, including budget cuts. He also asked for patience in implementing the raft of planned policy changes, which included retraining thousands of teachers.
“Transformation is taking place by the new government you have elected. We have to wait. Let the effectiveness take place. It will kick in in the next generation.”
I wished more people were present to hear that.