SAVE THE TURTLES
Dr Chen Pelf Nyok walked in for the interview looking a little tanned, as if she had been sunbathing on a beach holiday. The passionate conservation, however, had in fact been toiling along river banks in Terengganu for a good cause - to save endangered terrapins and turtles.
At a talk hosted by Blue Communities MY at Universiti Malaya recently, the co-founder and executive director of Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia talked about her conservation efforts in Kampung Pasir Gajah, Kemaman.
“The biggest challenge has always been the funding and finding manpower for the conservation. Without money you won’t get to do a lot of things," she says simply.
“We need money to do projects and awareness programmes. The conservation efforts, where we go to the river banks to collect the (terrapin) eggs, incubate, hatch and then release them - that needs money too."
“We also hire local villagers to clean the tank, feed and change the water everyday. Nobody should do work for free," says the 37-year old.
Nyok has been active in conservation for fourteen years, where she had received research grants for terrapin research programs. However, she explains that the money received isn’t enough. She has turned to merchandising, selling terrapin print batiks. To fund its initiatives, the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia also carries out adoption programmes, where the public can adopt a terrapin for RM35.
“We will take care of the terrapins.You adopt and we will release them," says Nyok.
“We also have donation programmes. Each time we go to talk, if people can donate, we will happily take it,” Nyok says with a smile.
The need for adequate funding to run conservation initiatives cannot be emphasised enough but Nyok says she is cautious on choosing her collaborators, particularly bigger organisations.
“Our project is what I would consider a high impact to the society although it’s a small project in the kampung.”
“So, if we got some company that wants to work with us along our direction, then yes. But if that company wants to inject some funds into us and do things differently, than that would be a little tough,” says Nyok.
“I’m a big fan of collaborations but that also depends on what these bigger companies want from us and what we can give them.”
One of the biggest obstacle to protecting endangered terrapins is the sale of their eggs among the locals.
"For so many years we have not been able to put a stop to the collection and consumption of sea turtle eggs. I’m actually hopeful that the new government will at least listen to us," says Nyok.
“I have not met the Terengganu MB yet, I want to meet him so badly to share with him about our various turtle project in Terengganu. I've emailed him twice, but I have yet to receive a response."
Top on the list of Nyok's aspirations is to have the state government banned the sale of sea turtle eggs. She also hopes that the government will consider to establish a freshwater sanctuary for the endangered species, apart from financial assistance.
"All we want to do is return the symbolism of turtles to the state of Terengganu."
Nyok's dedicated effort in conservation has earned her the Commonwealth Point of Light award from the Queen of England, an award recognising outstanding individuals whose actions and ideas have changed lives and positively impact communities.
“People keep asking, how we can help as a lay person? I always tell them you can help in your own capacity," says Nyok, adding that the first step to protecting endangered animals is through awareness.
“Even kids can help. I tell them, when you go back, tell your parents you don’t want to eat terrapin and sea turtle eggs.”
“If you’re a photographer, you can come to our place to help us take good photos. If you’re a videographer, come over and help us shoot some videos, so that we can use them as promotional materials. If you’re a blogger, please write about what we do.”
“Go out and talk about us. After that, it really depends on them."