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Tuesday October 11, 2011

Hooking up for science

RIMBA is neither an NGO nor a consultancy or a society. It is a research group, according to co-founder Gopalasamy Reuben Clements.

The term, however, just does not seem colourful enough to describe this group of young scientists who believe their specialist skills can be utilised for a greater good.

The brainchild of conservation biologists Clements, 32, and Sheema Abdul Aziz, 33, they first came up with the idea for Rimba because they felt many scientists in Malaysia were working in isolation.

Their vision for Rimba is to grow a network of scientists who can work together and explore conservation issues more intensively.

Measuring over 17cm in length, the female Malayan jungle nymph is supposedly the heaviest insect in the world.

He says the grouping allows them to collaborate and leverage on each other’s expertise and experience.

“Most of us are doing our own research projects, are affiliated with universities and working on everything from molecular evolution to elephant ecology.”

With funding and resources ever an issue when it comes to research, the group present themselves as a useful tool to help fill in the blanks about what we need to know to make conservation effective. The alliance of researchers banded together last November.

“Our goal is to communicate our scientific findings to the government, which manages the forests in Malaysia, so these can be used to improve wildlife management.”

Rimba readily makes its project findings accessible to the public through social media. Facebook and Wordpress are platforms that bring adventures from the forest straight to fans online. The field diary posts deliver colourful, bite-sized snippets revealing the researchers’ encounters with the weird and wonderful.

Facebook users get a glimpse of “whatever we see in the jungle”, according to Clements. A post from Aug 3, for example, sees Facebook users greeted by a Wallace’s flying frog, captured in brilliant green. The July 6 post displays a thorny green female Malaysian jungle nymph (the heaviest insect in the world).

“Our main purpose in reaching out to the public is to raise awareness and let people know (about all the interesting wildlife in) our project sites.”

Their Facebook page represents a focal point not just for researchers, conservation biologists and NGOs, but anyone who is interested to learn more about, and get involved in, conservation. Their Wordpress site offers updates of their projects and links to scientific publications.

Rimba is also a platform to nurture independent-minded scientists to get out there and tackle unexplored questions. Clements’ advice to young aspiring conservation biologists is, first of all, to take a road trip.

“See your landscape, see Malaysia. Think of questions, pick an organism or an ecosystem and study it intensively, and then publish a few papers. You can do something like a simple review, or a review on the status of something. Just concentrate on building up your CV, because the more credible you are, the easier it will be to get funding for projects you want to do in the future.”

Hopefully, Rimba’s go-getter attitude will inspire a new generation of scientists to use their skills to build up knowledge and understanding of issues important to conservation. To quote Rimba’s catch-phrase: “We need a jungle out there.” – By Natalie Heng

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