By RUTH YEOH
Being an active environmentalist and serving as a Board Member of several environmental organisations, I am blessed to travel to magical places, with my most recent conservation visit being to the region of South America in November 2008.
I started my journey in Peru, and stayed at a Wildlife Research Centre in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. The first thing one will notice is the ruggedness of the journey. Getting there is quite an experience in itself. Imagine a van crossing rickety bridges, dusty roads, and long boat rides (the wooden bench, motor-propelled kind) upstream. The place I stayed at amazed me – totally sustainable to the core, with recycling bin baskets and limited electricity usage.
Imagine ambient candle-light dinners in the evenings – the staff will literally lower a candlelit chandelier which resembles antlers, light up the candles, and haul them up again with a rope – and being serenaded by the sound of cicadas singing to the wind.
Wake-up calls were the sounds of howler monkeys howling hauntingly in the distance, with 5 a.m. visits to research sites, ‘clay licks’, and rain forest walks. Scarlet macaws share your lodgings and will playfully fly in to visit your open-air room, which also has cold showers to keep to the sustainability theme.
I could go on and on about how I truly enjoyed my visit and how I sighted my first Capabaras. But an important point I want to share with you is how deforestation and human activity is a harsh reality. I observed some fallen trees and boat-mining activities along the riverbanks, before reaching the Research Centre.
The rainforest needs our protection. This is already evident in my home country of Malaysia, where our native orang utans and tigers are under threat from logging of their habitats, plantations, hunting, and other related human activities. My organisation (YTL) and I have previously worked with WWF Malaysia to implement a “Save Our Tigers! Save Our Water! Save Our Lungs!” programme trying to conserve the forest banks of our beautifully bio diverse Malaysia.
We also work with international organisations such as RARE Conservation and The Nature Conservancy (USA), and closer to home, we work with our local partners – Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), Reef Check Malaysia and TrEES (Treat Every Environment Special) – to roll out grassroots programmes in conservation, recycling, and environmental protection. We also have an inhouse carbon credit consultancy that helps other companies and organisations go clean and green.
I now skip to my seven-day cruise around the Galapagos Islands. It has always been a childhood dream of mine to visit South America and the Amazon – I always knew that deforestation took place and wanted to see its splendor before it disappears! Hopefully, this will not happen with conservation playing an important role.
Besides the beauty of the Amazon, the Galapagos has its own stunning charm in terms of the biodiversity the islands and oceans contain. Birds will quite literally and innocently walk up to you – one bluefooted “Booby” chick, for example, was following my pair of blue sandals, probably wondering why they resembled his blue webbed feet.
It felt surreal to swim with the sea lions, watch dolphins swimming below the hull of the ship, and observe whales in the distance. I also encountered the famous Galapagos Giant Tortoise, a fantastic creature and conservation story for fuel purposes, the tortoise population has since returned, thanks to conservationist projects and the Ecuadorian government.
The Galapagos Tortoise and the wildlife of the Galapagos are now strictly protected. I also saw two of the oldest-surviving tortoises – “Lonesome George” (the only known living specimen of the Pinta Island Tortoise in the Galapagos after the uncontrolled slaying of tortoises took place in the 17th Century) and “Diego”, who were flown in from the San Diego Zoo to revive the tortoise population during the 1970s.
This success story brings me to my final point. We have all heard how important it is to be involved in conservation and protect the environment. But what else can we do? I have always believed that one should not underestimate the power of individual will, simply because our collective voice and conscience is a lot more powerful than we think. If we vote for war, governments will go to war.
If we vote for sustainable development and policies, then our leaders will follow. It all starts with public will. If we demand for recycling facilities and services, clean air and water, and the choice of using renewable energies instead of fossil fuels, then our elected officials will respond accordingly.
I have made it my personal mission and choice to be involved in conservation, and I am still learning! Above all, I thank and praise God for this honour and purpose-driven mission to protect His creations the best way I can. The environmental business is an ongoing one, and I am blessed that God is continually guiding me on this journey.
Ruth Yeoh is Director of Investments at YTL Corporation Berhad, a US$9 billion corporation in the power, water, retail, hotel, resorts, construction, cement, and e-solutions sectors. She currently leads the environmental division, where she reports on her organization’s environmental activities through writing its award-winning Sustainability Reports, published yearly. Ruth also pioneered the highly successful “Climate Change Week,” YTL’s flagship educational campaign designed to raise awareness on the important issue of climate change in her nation of Malaysia and globally.
Note: The above entry was written in 2010 for What’s After SPM?, published in 2011. This non-for-profit book project is a collaboration between Leaderonomics and a team of young Malaysians. Click here for details on the project and authors.
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