All Hands On Deck

Creating New Norms Around Conservation in Malaysia

By Melvin Gumal
January 30, 2019

The world has been beset with wagon-loads of bad news, from climate change to the sixth extinction. Wherever you turn, in print or on social media, you see environmental despair. That’s why I found it heartening to see the turnout at our annual Run for the Wild here in Malaysia.

Given the many environmental issues Malaysia is facing, “we need to put conservation in the hands of as many people as possible.”

This year, we had 540 participants and volunteers and 14 local sponsors at the Run, so many of them eager to contribute to the cause. Plus, over 1,700 people took part worldwide, running or walking to spread awareness of the need to conserve endangered species. Compare this to 2015, when we launched the Run, and 50 people turned up.

Given the many environmental issues Malaysia is facing, we and various partners have taken an all-hands-on-deck approach. We use every tool in the conservation toolbox to solicit support. We organize beach clean-ups, encourage the use of paper straws instead of single-use plastic ones, and ask people to attend talks. We schedule recycling collections and conservation education activities and we encourage our supporters to join in conservation walks or runs that illustrate to politicians that their constituents care about the environment.

We need to put conservation in the hands of as many people as possible. It should not be a role just for the government or trained biologists or conservationists. In Malaysia, civil servants constitute about 10–15% of the workforce (e.g. 1.6 million civil servants of a total of about 15 million workers). We know that the broader population beyond the government does care. We have seen regular people commit to giving up straws, to scrapping plastic laundry bags in favor of old linens, and even to creating pads of recycled paper for the less fortunate folks in our society.

In the 1980s, many of us were told that conservationists were troublemakers that were anti-development. But we cannot and should not ignore the environmental issues of the day. We must face up to the reality of environmental degradation and make conservation a societal norm. Most importantly, we must inspire others to take part.

Melvin Gumal is Malaysia Country Director for WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society.

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