Keeping the Jungle Green with More Than Just Love
For years, conservation has had the reputation of being a man’s job. It has been known to be a field dominated by men due to the arduous nature of the work. But the times are changing and the tides are turning. Today, women have proven to be able to stand their ground in conservation. They are as strong as their male counterparts but as em/pathetic as their gender is known to be. They are proud conservation warriors – breaking the stereotype and setting the bar even higher.
In Sabah, women in conservation are making waves. They are the superheroes of the jungle, working tirelessly to conserve and preserve what is left of it. Here, in WWF-Malaysia’s Sabah office, conservation is a women’s field – the women far outnumber the men. Their task is no different to their male colleagues. They carry out the all-important work of planning and executing their conservation projects ranging from forest restoration, orangutan conservation, forest protection, wildlife trade and poaching monitoring, and mitigating human-elephant conflict.
These women effect change and they go about it without the need for accolades or acknowledgment. They work tirelessly day in and day out, protecting another feminine figure – Mother Nature.
Among the conservationists in the team are two remarkable young women whose mission is to keep pristine forests from disappearing and to ensure the proper management of them. Their work is difficult and receive little recognition, yet what they do is one of the most important element of conservation.
As caretakers of the forests, Tan Hao Jin and Elyrice Alim are tasked with advocating for more valuable forests to be reclassified as protected areas as well as working closely with governmental departments and private companies to better manage natural forests. They advocate, negotiate, plan, network and monitor. Together, Hao Jin and Ely have helped increase the number of protected forests in Sabah. Yet, for them, the work is far from done.
- Why did you decide to work in conservation?
HJ: I’ve always been interested in wildlife and enjoy being in nature, so it was a matter-of-fact that I immersed myself in the field of biology and nature conservation, so that I could use my knowledge to help conserve nature. As cliché as it sounds, I really want to help heal Mother Nature so that myself and my next generations can enjoy all the natural wonders this earth has!
Ely: My academic background was in Environmental Science, so naturally I took the path that suits my interest and knowledge. This field requires energy and genuine passion. My colleagues played a huge part in inspiring me. The one quote I’ll forever remember is – When you work in Conservation, you work for improving everybody’s life.
- Can you tell the readers a little about your day to day job?
HJ: Contrary to what many people (including my relatives) think, my job is unlike those conservationists you see coming up-close-and-(dangerously) personal with wildlife on Nat Geo Wild. In fact, I hardly come into contact with many wildlife species at all as my work involves mostly providing trainings to protected area staff in various aspects of protected area management. I also work with other colleagues of mine to identify new areas to protect in Sabah, so it involves a lot of data gathering, and talking to stakeholders, partners and state agencies responsible in gazetting new protected areas. I also do a lot of reviewing of management plans and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs). Not adrenaline pumping work, but nevertheless important for conservation.
Ely: I have to be honest, mine is not very glamorous. My work scope focuses on improving Forest Management (commercial and protection) and promoting the High Conservation Values (HCVs) approach. This means assessments, management plans, certification standards and organising trainings. I am also fortunate to be able to visit Forest Reserves all over Sabah! However, in my early days of working I didn’t realise that good interpersonal and communications skills are extremely crucial in conservation. I don’t consider myself naturally talented in communications or public relations but I’ve learnt a great deal and continue to learn more.
- Do you think women can make an impact in conservation?
HJ: Most definitely! We women have our own ways in working things out, such as dealing with conflict, relationships, and pulling together ideas and opinions. Plus we have an inbuilt nurturing ability. I believe at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which gender you are, but your passion drives your interest and ability to contribute in this field. I think the same goes to any jobs.
Ely: Absolutely. I believe in gender equality. Anyone can do anything if we put our minds and heart to it.
- Has being a woman in this male-dominated field impacted your work (whether negatively or positively) in any way?
HJ: So far I think it has been alright – I might get a few curious looks when venturing into the remote areas of Sabah where women don’t usually drive around in muddy 4WDs. But I have come to accept it as part of life and I do not pay any attention anymore. Sometimes being the flower amongst the thorns may have its positive side as you may get a helping hand in the field such as a kind soul offering to carry most of the heavy stuff, or slashing tall undergrowth ahead so that you can walk easily in the forest. Of course it is rewarded by a big thank you and a bright smile!
Ely: You mean, that top-tiers are male-dominated? The situation is not unique to conservation. I think, personally, I have to improve myself in many ways and I look up to self-made women who work hard to get to where they are. I consider myself very lucky to have met many wonderful women working in conservation, in the forestry industry and even women community leaders! Let’s put it this way – I have no excuse to use my gender as an excuse.
- Describe a challenging moment in your work that has to do with your gender, and how you overcame it.
HJ: I don’t remember coming across any challenging moment that has been associated strongly to my gender, but I always try and prepare myself when going for meetings, and reading up to increase my knowledge. Maintaining a calm composure but having my wits about me have often helped in tense situations. Also not forgetting a good sense of humour, which is often appreciated by male colleagues. Of course, when travelling to remote areas, I always try and get another female colleague to come along with me, or if not possible, I update at fixed times to let people know of my location.
Ely: Sometimes family and friends tend to worry more if a woman is to drive by herself, especially on roads that aren’t in great condition. This is a valid safety concern which I understand. However, in this job, we have had to learn basic 4×4 driving skills, how to plan ahead for everything – and these helped.
- Advice to other women. Would you encourage women to join conservation? Why?
HJ: We welcome you with open arms! The way we are structured, we have a different way of looking at things and solving problems, so having a balance of men and women working in this field actually is the best for conservation!
Ely: Follow your passion! Go ahead and do it!
For Hao Jin, Elyrice and other women in the office, conservation is their passion. They are looking to help protect the forests, keep the air clean, ensure the wildlife in our forests don’t go extinct and prevent the loss of biodiversity. They are working hard to carve a better future for this generation and the generations that follow. They are pressing for change and they call for all women to do the same.
This International Women’s Day theme is #pressforchange. WWF-Malaysia calls all women this Women’s Day to stand up and press for change in the way we manage the environment. Learn how you can do your part for Mother Nature by visiting our website at wwf.org.my
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WWF-Malaysia (World Wide Fund for Nature-Malaysia) was established in Malaysia in 1972. It currently runs more than 90 projects covering a diverse range of environmental conservation and protection work, from saving endangered species such as tigers and turtles, to protecting our highland forests, rivers and seas. The national conservation organization also undertakes environmental education and advocacy work to achieve its conservation goals. Its mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the nation’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. For latest news and media resources, visit http://www.wwf.org.my/media_and_information/media_centre/
Elaine Clara Mah
Tel: +6088 262 420 Ext. 121