Nature’s assistants: Dr Gumal (third from left) resting with members of a survey team at an orang utan project site at the Batang Ai National Park in Sarawak.
PETALING JAYA: A conservationist known for his efforts to help save the orang utan has won the Whitley Award, the first Malaysian to do so.
Dr Melvin Gumal was honoured with the Whitley Award for Conservation in Ape Habitats at a special ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society in Britain on Thursday night.
The awards are handed out for the world’s best conservation efforts.
“I am overwhelmed and excited,” Dr Gumal told The Star over WhatsApp before the ceremony.
He also expressed his gratitude to his family, the Sarawak Forest Department, Forestry Corp, Borneo Adventure and various donors such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and others for their support.
When asked what he would do next Dr Gumal said: “(I’ll) go (back) to the field and chill.”
The award comes with a cash prize of £35,000 (RM192,168), which Dr Gumal said would be used for field work.
A field biologist and long-term conservationist, Dr Gumal was picked from more than 170 experts worldwide for the award.
The Star reported that he was one of eight finalists in the running to win the award, which is popularly known as the Green Oscars.
The organisation behind it – the Whitley Fund for Nature – has natural history expert Sir David Attenborough as a trustee.
Attenborough was quoted by the organisation as saying: “Whitley Award winners are successful because they don’t just watch and measure – they act! They are the conservation experts – not us – they know what to do and, more importantly, how to get it done.”
A director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Malaysian chapter since 2003, Dr Gumal has been working to understand and save the orang utan since 1988.
He has been involved in the conservation of the primates in the Batang Ai National Park and the Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary, home to more than 2,000 animals.
Before joining the WCS, Dr Gumal headed the Conservation Education and Interpretation Unit within the Sarawak Forestry Department’s National Parks and Wildlife Office for 15 years.
He also helped to co-author the Wildlife Master Plan for Sarawak and has been working with rural communities living in and around protected areas in the state.