You have been MNS president since 1979. What motivates you after being in that role for so long? Robin Khoo, Malacca
I am ready to serve as president as long as the society’s members want me to. I had stepped down in 2006, but friends persuaded me to come back and members re-elected me in 2008. So I am here to serve the society and through it, serve the country and Malaysians at large.
Moreover, there are so many challenges in the environmental area in the country, that we need a strong voice of the people, and MNS can be the conduit. If you or I speak out, no one will listen. But if MNS is a strong organisation with a few hundred thousand or a million members, then people will listen when MNS speaks. That is why we need to increase our membership so that MNS can be truly the voice of the people on the environment.
However, we must be always objective and politically neutral. MNS is not against the Government, but MNS will speak out against government policies and actions that are not environmentally friendly or sustainable.
What do you treasure most from your many years at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM)?
Khalid Azman, PJ
There are many great memories of my times at FRIM and I have documented them in my autobiography, which will hopefully be published soon. However, what I treasure most are the friends that I made from among the staff that worked with me to make FRIM a truly great place to work.
Besides the beautiful and peaceful environment with the trees and the forests, the staff from my directors and researchers right to the labourers, were my friends, including the hospital assistants who worked there at that time. They remain my friends until today.
While at work, I was their “boss” but after office, we played football, badminton, squash and other sports. We went hiking to Gunung Tahan and other parts of the country. In the early days, we even held a fun fair on the FRIM padang! We were all equals outside the office and that bond of friendship held the organisation together.
What do you think of the attitude of Malaysians towards conserving our natural heritage? Tan Eng Chuan
Unfortunately, in general, Malaysians have the “tidak apa” attitude towards the environment. They consider conserving the environment and our natural heritage as someone else’s responsibility and not theirs. While the Government has a very important role, we as individuals can also play our part.
First, we must practice conservation at home by minimising our use of energy, water and other non-renewable resources. For example, rely on sunlight as much as possible and turn off the lights when leaving the room. Use a pail of water when washing the car instead of a hose.
We must practice the 3Rs – reduce, reuse and recycle. We can do this with newspapers, plastic and aluminium and just about everything else. Use public transport as much as possible, although the state of the country’s public transport is not something to shout about!
Is eco-tourism a priority for MNS? And which aspects of it is environmentally viable in your opinion? Azman Abu Bakar
Eco-tourism is not a priority of MNS but we promote the conservation of natural areas that can be used for eco-tourism. We encourage eco-tourism even among our members. The private sector should take it up as an economic activity as there is money to be made.
MNS is not into business but we promote activities such as the Raptor Watch in Tanjung Tuan, Malacca, which attracted thousands last March. We help organise the Fraser’s Hill bird race, also an eco-tourism activity. Our nature centre in the Kuala Selangor Nature Park promotes eco-tourism in a way, including promoting the Kampong Kuantan fireflies.
However, our priority is conservation of the natural heritage and educating the Malaysian public on conservation and the environment, especially the younger generation. If our natural environment is conserved in its pristine state, and is easily accessible and safe, eco-tourism can develop and benefit from these resources.
Obviously you have a deep love for nature. But why exactly? Teh How Wai, Setapak
I really do not know why, but I suppose as a forester, I love the forest and had spent many years of my career doing forest inventory, camping in forests all over Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah. The longest that I have camped in the forest is two months. It was one of the most enjoyable times of my life.
The forest is so peaceful and in the early days, we did not have mobile phones. Contrary to perception, the forest is a very safe place. Wild animals are scared of human beings and they disappear the moment they smell or hear our presence. There is nothing more enjoyable than swimming in a clear cool riverine pool after a hard day’s work. There is nothing more peaceful than sleeping in a hammock in the dark night of the jungle with the sounds of cicadas and other insects around you and the distant whooping of the gibbons. I totally enjoyed those days.
What are your favourite nature spots in Malaysia and abroad? M. Gayathri, Puchong
In Malaysia, I must say it is the grounds of FRIM. It is so close to Kuala Lumpur and yet one can get immersed in nature when one is in FRIM. The canopy walkway that was built during my time as FRIM director-general continues to attract visitors. Other areas in Malaysia include Taman Negara, Endau-Rompin National Park, Belum National Park, Kuala Selangor Nature Park, Sipadan Island, Pulau Redang and Kota Damansara Forest.
The Raptor Watch and Fraser’s Hill bird race are activities that I enjoy. The old Gombak-Pahang road leading to Genting Sempah is a wonderful escape to enjoy nature. I am sure there are many more.
As for overseas spots, there are many, but my favourites are the Galapagos Islands; the cold, white landscape of Antarctica; the Nile of Egypt; the National Parks of the United States, including the Giant Sequoia trees, the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls; Australia with its unique flora and fauna and the Great Barrier reef; and Africa with the Big Five game animals – rhinoceros, elephant, lion, hippopotamus and giraffe. As a forester, I enjoyed visiting the tropical forests of Congo and the Amazon, especially where the muddy waters of the Amazon and the black waters of the Rio Negro meet. However, there is no place like home!
If you had the power to make one change in environmental policies of the world’s nations, what would it be? Howard Lopez
I would ban wars and other conflicts because they are environmentally very destructive. Look at what happened in Vietnam, Iraq and the two World Wars. Even during the Emergency in Malaya, much destruction of habitats and wildlife took place.
As for specific environmental policy, I would ban the use of all forms of greenhouse gases as they are very damaging to the environment and the impact is slow and sometimes not perceivable. I would also ban the use of plastic as they are very environmentally unfriendly and there are alternatives.
What is Malaysia doing right in the area of conservation, and what aspects need the most improvement? Kalimuthu Pilai, Alor Setar
Laws on the environment in Malaysia are plenty and adequate, but the enforcement needs to be improved. Our system for allocating forest logging rights must be more transparent. While our system of forest reserves is well gazetted, logging needs greater control. We must phase out logging of natural forests because they have greater value as water catchments and for conservation of biodiversity.
I am convinced also that sooner or later, the international community will develop a system of biodiversity credits similar to the carbon credit concept, and Malaysia can benefit economically from this as we are among the world’s top 12 mega-diversity countries.
As for our long-term timber needs, trees can be grown as plantations, and research by FRIM has proven that rubberwood and oil palm trunks are good timber substitutes. More national parks should be created and we should invest more in research in conservation. Fundamental research such as in plant taxonomy should be encouraged.
Other than your work in MNS, what keeps you busy? A. B. Saiful, Taiping
I am active in the Academy of Sciences Malaysia, where as secretary-general, I chair a number of committees such as the Antarctica Task Force, Lindau Committee and Publications Committee. I am a member of other NGOs such as the Malaysian Scientific Association. I also have to earn a living and have a small consultancy company in forestry.
Why is it that Westerners seem more environmentally conscious than us Asians? Or is it just an illusion? Ken Leong , Kuala Lumpur
The Westerners, especially Europeans, and the Japanese are definitely more environmentally conscious and committed than Malaysians. To my mind, this is because of education, family consciousness, attitudes and values with regard to the environment.
Some say religious beliefs have a role to play, but I am not fully convinced. The television plays a role also. However, we as Malaysians can also practise conservation if we commit ourselves individually and collectively. This is a mindset that we need to inculcate, especially in our younger generation.
As an example, I have seen so many times drivers throwing rubbish from their cars. I have also often seen shopkeepers practising open burning of rubbish right in the middle of Kuala Lumpur! The motorcycle shops along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman dump waste oil into the drains and the pavements in front of their shops are black from the oil! All these can be avoided if only they are more conscious and committed to saving our environment.
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