June Rubis | TMI
Discovering the fresh corpse of an orangutan was probably the last straw. It had been shot several times and left to die on a riverbank. We discovered the corpse while paddling up a river in Batang Ai National Park.
Killing an orangutan, a totally protected animal, in Sarawak is an offence that could lead to two years’ imprisonment or a fine of RM30,000. Very few have been prosecuted for wildlife crimes in Sarawak, and the lack of prosecution or arrests does not necessarily mean that no crimes have been committed.
Stumbling upon a fresh kill of a wildlife species that I had dedicated my young life to help protect and conserve, hurt a lot. The fact that the orangutan was shot and killed in a national park in Sarawak, just a few kilometres from the ranger station, was horrifying. What else could be going on undetected in the vast areas of our protected national parks and wildlife sanctuaries?
My team of field assistants and I immediately turned back to report our find to the authorities. My field surveys had to be postponed for another day.
Devastated, I returned to Kuching to have a heart-to-heart talk with my boss. I had been working in the conservation field for about four years, and was tired of having my reports of hunting in totally protected areas in the state either ignored or questioned for their veracity.
Now having the ultimate evidence, an actual corpse that no one could deny the existence of, did not give me the comfort that perhaps this time around, there would be stern action taken against the perpetrators.
Sarawak has the best state laws for the protection of wildlife in the country, yet implementation remains an issue.
I asked my boss, whom I greatly respect, what is the point of continuing in this line of work when it feels like we’re trying to stop a flood while armed with leaky buckets.
He looked straight into my eyes, and explained, “June, conservation work is not a sprint, it’s a life-long marathon. Do not give up just yet. Sometimes we cannot see the impact of our work until much later.”
This advice has remained with me to this day, many years later.
While my work scope may have changed from wildlife research to working on human-related issues (yet still related to conservation), I haven’t given up on NGO work. About five years since the orangutan killing, I still believe that the work I do for my country is a life-long marathon.
Lately, there’s been a lot of frustration with our political leaders, on how our country is run, and how some individuals seem to have a free rein to spout racial and religious hatred.
I believe in the goodness and moderation of the average Malaysian, and I am sure, just like me, most of us are confused at times about where this country seems to be heading. And it hurts. It feels like we are trying to stem a flood of bigotry and enmity with a few buckets of reasoning and good sense.
We struggle to have our voices heard but will the political leaders of the day listen and react appropriately to our grievances? And sometimes, some of us consider leaving the country, the inevitable brain-drain dilemma. Sometimes, some of us just want to give up, and stop caring.
I say to you: Don’t.
Maybe it is hard to see it now, but when I look back just a mere few years, not many of us even dared voice out how we felt. Now there are many good voices, proudly Malaysian, and daring to put our names to our opinions.
A year ago, I didn’t think I would be writing what I’ve written for this column and LoyarBurok.com. A year ago, I didn’t have the nerve to do so and I only gathered the courage after being inspired by brave individuals standing up and fighting for what they believe in.
I don’t know what the impact of my writing would be and whether it would resonate with others who would feel braver as a result, and so stand up on their own. I don’t know yet the repercussions of my writing and how it would affect my own work.
I do know to write as my conscience dictates, and hope that in doing so, my little contribution would help lead to a more open society, particularly for my own beloved state of Sarawak.
If we stay strong to our beliefs and passions, no matter what they are, the journey will certainly be a life-long marathon. We may not know the impact of our work just yet but have faith that it will get better.
So strap up your boots, and prepare for your personal odyssey.
And don’t give up on Malaysia just yet.