Saving rare wildlife from extinction by Irene C, email@example.com
Fadzillawati (left) showing rhino footprints to an American journalist (centre) during her stint in Sabah.
She is fighting for the welfare of animals, especially the rhinocerous, because she says ‘they do not have a voice to speak out for their rights.’
IT’s not the choice job for youths who aspire to make a name for themselves overnight but for Fadzillawati Zahrah Hamdan, the satisfaction of knowing how her sweat and tears can save a single animal from extinction — like the rhinocerous — is worth all the effort.
While the 33-year-old loves Nature, wildlife and the environment, she never imagined her calling would be fighting for the welfare of animals which “do not have a voice to speak out for their rights.”
The care for animals may be in her blood — or nurtured — because as a student, she spent her school holidays helping out at national parks and nature reserves.
Moreover, her late father worked at the Forest Department, and her stepfather worked there as well — and now at the Sarawak Forestry Corporation.
Fadzillawati started out in 2005 at Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sabah, tracking rhinos in the wild.
Why conservation? Well, it’s certainly not for money – in fact, she doesn’t really know why she chose this path. But she pointed out that the experience she gained from the job could not be bought with money.
Simply priceless, she enthused.
At WWF-Malaysia Sarawak office.
“The best was when I woke up in the morning and an elephant greeted me at my doorstep. It was a fantastic start to my day.”
Fadzillawati said seeing the pachyderm made “the whole world seem marvellous,” especially when her base camp at the Reserve was a building with neither water nor electricity.
Even her bed was hand-made by the staff and the thin mattress was also donated.
The salary back then was very low — only RM300 to RM700 a month without bonus. What made the workers stay on was their love of animals.
Even now, there is still a big shortage for conservationists.
The work at the Reserve is no stroll in the park. A typical work day involves lugging between 15kg and 20kg of tools and supplies plus walking some 10km.
There are also risks as the workers not only can be attacked by wild animals but also shot by poachers.
Though Fadzillawati has never seen a rhino during her stint at the Reserve, just discovering its few footprints made her heart race as this meant there was a chance of encountering one.
A few months later, oil palm plantation workers reported the sighting of a rhino in the area and she rushed with a few others to the plantation.
They stayed at the staff quarters and the next morning, she was delighted to see not a handful but hundreds of rhino footprints along the logging road – in fact, so many that it was hard to determine how many animals were there or in which direction they went.
“During our stay, we didn’t see any rhinos but a few months later, the staff managed to video-tape one.
“I was moved to tears — it was a touching moment for me. Although I have never seen one with my own eyes, the video proves there are still rhinocerouses in the wild and this gives me strength to continue conserving the natural habitat so that these precious animals can survive.”
Fadzillawati spent one whole year looking for rhinos and she and her co-workers even started to joke that the animal was a myth because they had never found one.
“So you could imagine the satisfaction I felt after watching the video,” she said.
Protecting rhinos does not only mean keeping them safe from the traps set by poachers but also conserving their habitats so that they can thrive, re-populate and be around for generations to come.
Like most school leavers, Fadzillawati took the traditional path of getting into universities before discovering her love for conservation and the environment.
Learning theories about conservation in the classroom is one thing, what happens in practice on the field is quite another.
“The wild can turn up things quite unlike what you find in textbooks. Practical experience is more important,” she said.
The following year, Fadzillawati was offered a position with WWF-Malaysia as programme officer for Totally Protected Areas. It was the perfect opportunity for her to move further afield in her vocation.
During a trip to Santubong National Park.
Without proper job designation, her conservation efforts had been a drop in the bucket but attached to WWF-Malaysia, she could work in many areas with the help of the Totally Protected Areas (TPAs) management, staff and stakeholders, and make a bigger difference immediately.
“In Sarawak, I lead the WWF-Malaysia Protected Areas programme by co-ordinating a network of conservation organisations and other related stakeholders in the implementation of the programme.
“I have been leading and coordinating the assessment of 29 TPAs in Sarawak, covering an area of 700,727 hectares, using Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool (METT) developed by WWF and the World Bank.
“Protected Areas is key to the governance and management of representative ecosystems, therefore ensuring that the health of forests and ecosystems in important areas is increased for the benefit of humankind and Nature,” she explained.
As one of the main contributors to the WWF-Malaysia Sarawak programme, Fadzillawati identifies priority conservation areas (PCAs) which contribute to identification of habitat connectivity.
For the national level of Protected Areas, she contributes to the development of Malaysia National Protected Areas Masterlist.
She is also directly involved in a few of WWF international networks based on the Heart of Borneo (HoB) initiatives:
Trilateral initiatives between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
Sarawak focal person for Protected Areas De-gazettement, Downsizing and Downgrading (PADDD) project with WWF-US.
Focal person for WWF-Malaysia in reviewing Management Effectiveness Tracking Tools (METT) with WWF-International (Alexander Belukurov).
High Conservation Value Forest (HCVF) Toolkit, one of WWF internal reviewers, and WWF-Traffic Wildlife Crime Strategy.
One of the reviewers coordinating inputs from WWF-Malaysia to WWF Network Species Programme and Traffic in reviewing their strategies to combat wildlife crime.
Her job scope involves leading, co-ordinating, and ensuring the implementation conservation strategies and action plans as well as monitoring and evaluating programmes and projects pertaining to Protected Areas in Sarawak and contributing to the Heart of Borneo (HoB) Initiative area.
She is also the focal person on matters related to Protected Areas in Sarawak and also suppoprts Protected Areas National Team in fundraising and capacity-building programmes for work relevant to WWF-Malaysia’s thematic and landscape programmes and projects.
Before holding her current position, she was the WWF-Malaysia Heart of Borneo Species officer from 2008 to 2010.
She was directly involved in WWF structure of Heart of Borneo Initiatives, especially on wildlife issues, working closely with her counterparts in Indonesia and Brunei for a strategic approach and implementation of the initiatives on the ground.
She also advises on WWF directions on the ground, supporting the network initiative in delivery of the programme and overseeing internal WWF programmes or projects related to or contributing to HoB.
She also played an active part in ensuring effective engagement and involvement of various stakeholders, and monitoring issues on HoB as well as outside the HoB boundary in the case of Sarawak.
Fadzillawati is the longest serving WWF employee in the Sarawak team.
Fadzillawati (right) having a meal in the jungle while tracking rhinos in Sabah with an NGO.