If we don’t do it, who will?” – this is a profession which may not be the most glamorous, but it’s essential in ensuring that nature’s treasures can be enjoyed for generations to come.
These are Malaysia’s park rangers.
As frontliners in protecting resources within National Parks, State Parks and Forest Reserves, they are driven not by monetary gain, but a more altruistic desire to see that wildlife, vegetation and ecosystems are not damaged by human activity.
Unbeknownst to the public, they often risk life and limb while performing their duties. These contributions and sacrifices were duly recognised at the World Ranger Day 2017 celebrations in Batu Feringghi, Penang.
Themed “Unsung Heroes of the Forest”, the five-day event held at Bayview Beach Resort brought together some 40 rangers from various departments around the country to exchange knowledge and foster camaraderie.
It was organised by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia (better known as Perhilitan) through its Workers’ Union in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme – Global Environment Facility’s (UNDP-GEF) Protected Areas (PA) Financing project.
This was also in conjunction with World Ranger Day celebrated internationally on July 31 every year to honour those who have been killed or injured in the line of duty.
It also acknowledges the role rangers play in protecting natural resources and biodiversity, explains Ahmad Azhar Mohammed, director of Perhilitan Pahang.
The 53-year-old loves the outdoors and initially worked in agriculture, but became a ranger as he felt Mother Nature needed all the help it could get.
With an estimated 50% of Malaysia still classified as forests (which includes forest plantations and regenerated logged forests), it was also his way of serving the country.
“I love my job. It is my calling,” said Ahmad. “It’s not something you learn in schools or universities, but it comes from your soul. You just know it’s the right thing to do.”
Environmental conservation takes more than a single person. All of us play an important role, each contributing with different skills and abilities, he emphasised.
“The results of what we do may not be immediately obvious, but it helps ensure that people can continue to enjoy what the planet has gifted us,” he highlighted during a special sharing session. “Because what’s the point of having the best cities or infrastructure, if all our wildlife slowly becomes extinct?”
Ahmad said that the hunting of animals is one of mankind’s oldest practices, and impossible to totally eradicate. What they can do, is increase awareness of the best practices through regulation and enforcement, so that it is humane and sustainable.
“We know where the hotspots are. These are usually locations with an abundance of prized animals,” added Ahmad, who considers himself lucky to have witnessed a Sumatran rhino in the jungle in 1998, before the species became extinct in the wild in Malaysia.
Perhilitan senior ranger Mohd Sallehuddin Mohd Yusoff similarly laments the effects of poaching and wildlife trafficking. Yes, it’s illegal, but that has not deterred unscrupulous parties out to make a quick buck.
“My father was a ranger too, and it gave me a deep appreciation for wildlife,” he shared. “It saddens me that my grandchildren might grow up never seeing these animals alive, but only through pictures.
“It is down to rangers like us to prevent that, because who else would spring to action and protect them?” said the 56-year-old, who is also an expert marksman.
Also sharing his experiences was Sabah Wildlife Department ranger Francis Masangkim, 52, who was among nine Malaysians and 12 foreign nationals kidnapped from Sipadan Island by separatist group Abu Sayyaf and taken to Jolo island in the year 2000.
“We were working on a turtle egg hatching project when the incident happened,” he recalled.
“The first few weeks in captivity were tough, but when we received visits from volunteers and aid workers, it lifted our spirits and gave us hope that we might be able to go home.”
Undaunted by the 90-day ordeal, he eventually resumed his duties as a ranger, to play his part in helping endangered species survive.
The World Ranger Day 2017 programme in Penang also saw participants visiting the Penang National Park and Entopia in Teluk Bahang, as well as the Unesco World Heritage city of George Town. In between, there were team building sessions and joyous meals together.
It was officiated by by Datuk Ir. Dr Haji Hamim Samuri, Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and Environment, in a ceremony on the final day.
In his speech, he said to the rangers, “We value your unwavering efforts and sacrifices in the line of duty. This working culture is not only a source of pride, but serves as an inspiration to all.
“You stand up for wild animals who cannot speak, form a defensive wall against encroachment, educate the public about nature, and are the main protectors of Malaysian ecosystems.”