“Old chapters are closing, new ones are unfolding, and with them come much hope for the local environmental landscape.”
WHO doesn’t love a good story? We have a long history of narrative — the ancient days where the only way to share knowledge was through words, from person to person, generation to generation. We’re fundamentally hard-wired for stories — they’re how we record both the monumental events of life and the small everyday moments which are no less significant.
The year 2016 has been full of stories where our natural heritage is concerned. Happy endings that make us want to believe there’s hope for our dwindling environment, sad endings that make us think that we’re fighting an insurmountable battle to protect our forests, oceans and wildlife, and adventures that make us long to leave the comfort of our armchair and venture out, seeking our own adventures in the wild.
Through these pages, you’ve read about the depletion of our forests and how our iconic wildlife including rhinoceroses, elephants, tigers, sun bears and hornbills are slowly fading away from this grand story we call life.
You’ve also come to know the people who are relentless in trying to rewrite the endings of our natural landscape and these amazing creatures in hopes their survival is ensured and their stories will not be written off the chapters completely and out of this fragile planet we call home.
Here are some story changers in Malaysia who are constantly rewriting chapters and adding pages in hopes that our precious environmental heritage lives on. These are their insights on the year that was and their hopes for 2017 and beyond.
TAN SRI DATUK SERI DR SALLEH MOHD NOR
First Director-General of Forest Research Institute of Malaysia, past president of the Malaysian Nature Society and winner of the 2016 Merdeka Award for the Environment
“THE year 2016 has been a disastrous year for the environment. From deforestation to climate change, it seems to me that many issues were not addressed. Air pollution continues to remain a major worry in this country, leading to adverse environmental effects like haze, acid rain and the depletion of the ozone layer, harming not just the trees, soil, rivers and wildlife, but us as well.
The government has pledged to cut carbon emission intensity by 45 per cent by 2030 but I’ve yet to see clear cut plans in place to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint. Our rivers are polluted, and are no longer clear – most have the consistency of teh tarik (tea with milk) now! People are generally apathetic and our water sources are being treated as rubbish dumps. It makes me very sad.
It is my hope that the government will invest more in research. We need research to find solutions and create new technologies that can help mitigate our environmental woes. I also hope environmental education will be given the prominence it deserves.
The future of the nation belongs to the children, and environmental education will present opportunities for young people to become engaged in real world issues confronting our planet and give them the skills they need to become creative solvers and powerful advocates. We need young leaders to rise up for us to pass the baton on.”
Naturalist, Conservationist and Educator
“Malaysia has been blessed with a rich diversity of flora and fauna. The rainforest has for thousands of years provided us with its ecosystem services, most importantly as the source of our water security, water for drinking, washing, bathing, cooking, agriculture and industry.
Today we lie at an important crossroad, for we have lost nearly 50% of our natural heritage and the writings are on the wall. Increasingly, we hear in the news the occurrence of polluted waterways, flash floods, droughts and taps running dry. It is now essential and more important than ever that we protect our remaining natural heritage for ourselves, and for our future generations.”
Senior Programme Manager, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia“Where wildlife crime is concerned, 2016 has seen several notable successes. The wildlife departments have recorded a string of cases throughout the year; not just with arrests but in meting out fines and prison sentences.
But this year’s successes and the level of wildlife crime that continues to occur is a sure sign that the bar needs to be raised. There are people who plunder our forests and rid them of our iconic species, like the critically endangered Malayan Tigers. Some steal sun bears and gibbons and other species to blatantly sell them on social media sites as pets to consumers who hold the same degree of responsibility in committing a crime.
Others orchestrate meticulous plans to acquire and traffic high profiled and threatened wildlife commodities like ivory and Madagascar tortoises across our borders with ease. It’s time to raise the stakes for those who give Malaysia a bad name, and more importantly, to bring the full force of the law down on them.
Lastly. Budgets cuts for agencies that are our frontliners in protecting our natural resources puts us at a massive disadvantage in fighting a serious global crime. If agencies don’t have the resources they need, we are setting ourselves up for failure; a failure that could very well result in the disappearance of the majestic animal that adorns our Jata Negara.”
Naturalist, Bird Guide & CEO, Ecotourism & Conservation Society Malaysia (ECOMY)
“2016 has not been a good year for the environment. Logging and forest clearing continue to worm their way into our natural landscapes and our precious wildlife is in harm’s way, including my favourite Helmeted Hornbill that is now critically endangered!
For a species that lives a monogamous life, foraging for a living in our deep forests and marvelled at by tourists the world over, we have managed to cruelly speed it up towards extinction. On the other hand, 2016 also saw new groups of civil society emerge to champion causes, and more events that celebrate our natural assets.
As local states continue to embark on their tourism plans for 2017, I hope that the State governments will push for better campaigns and policies to not just celebrate but protect their natural resources. 2017 must also be a catalyst for Malaysians to wake up from their environmental slumber and move towards environmental action.
We have already suffered a great loss as a nation with many of our iconic wildlife moving towards extinction. It’s time to move forward together and help protect what is left.”
CHEN PELF NYOK
Co-Founder, Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia“THERE were some silver linings for the society despite the overall bleak outlook on the environmental scene. Our river terrapin project is gaining momentum at Kampung Pasir Gajah, we have a new hatchery and a mini terrapin museum is to be set up soon!
The year has seen us forge great relationships with local communities which was instrumental in the success and growth of our project. It proves that we simply can’t do without community engagement. Conservation isn’t solely an endeavour by NGOs alone, we need the help of the local community to really make a difference. To put it succinctly, conservation is a task for everyone.
We were invited to numerous outreach activities this year, and we’re glad to see an increase in awareness in the general public, compared to say, a few years ago. But, there’s still so much more to be done. I hope that awareness and education will continue to spread amongst young people. We need more young people to step up.
As much as we’re making inroads in releasing juvenile river terrapins and raising awareness, we hope that our rivers will be kept in a pristine state so that river terrapins will have a natural habitat and riverine vegetation for food. Keeping our environment clean is something everyone can do. It starts with us.”
Environmentalist & Chairman of Centre for Environment, Technology and Development Malaysia (CETDEM)
“The future of the Malaysian environment scene does not look very bright. The year 2016 did not bode well for the environment either. However, there was a slight improvement on the haze issue which besieges the country without fail annually. It is time of Malaysians to ACT rather than just talk about changing lifestyles, to begin positive work in protecting our environment. It has to start with all of us.”
Stories make us remember. It was Rudyard Kipling who said: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” So yes, we’ll continue to have stories for you.
And because every great love starts with a good story, we hope you’ll discover love under a firefly-lit sky along the river, beneath the lush verdant cover of the forest or within the depths of the magical underwater world beneath our blue seas. Sometimes love is all we need to save what we can’t live without — Nature.
As always, the year-end demands a retrospective look at our own stories and each New Year that beckons speak of the possibility of changing the plot or starting a new chapter. It’s our hope that you will find the motivation you need through our stories, to make changes on your own, and ultimately for the nation.
First published in the New Straits Times, 31st December, 2016