The story of the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia (TCS)
Peninsular Malaysia is home to around 18 species of freshwater turtles. But most are currently endangered because of a range of threats. One of the main issues is pollution of the rivers and lakes from industry and farming operations. Also, there is the danger of harmful fishing gear. Additionally, turtles are victims of poaching for the pet trade. Traditionally, the consumption of turtle eggs caused a severe decline in turtle species numbers and local populations.
The Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia (TCS) was founded out of this necessity for protecting and conserving Malaysia’s turtles. It was set up by Drs. Chan Eng Heng and Chen Pelf Nyok in 2011, since there was no organisation dedicated to conserving freshwater turtles in the country at the time. Realising the need for immediate action, TCS started its first community-based terrapin conservation project in Kemaman, Terengganu in 2011 to aid in the recovery of the depleted wild population of freshwater turtles.
In conservation, tangible success cannot be achieved only by improving targets for population statistics. At the same time, it is important to influence the local communities that are a crucial part of the ecosystem. This means changing people’s motive and behaviour. So, on the one hand, TCS has a hands-on scientific approach to conserving Malaysia’s turtles by studying turtle nesting numbers, their biology and movement patterns. Furthermore, it has set up turtle hatcheries to breed and release them in the wild. TCS has released over 2,800 terrapin hatchlings. On the other hand, TCS also works alongside local communities by educating and raising awareness, discussing and consulting on turtle conservation issues and challenges. Importantly, it helps to create alternative sources of livelihood for locals.
From poacher to Terrapin Guardian
One of the heart-warming and inspirational stories of TCS transforming communities is that of Pakcik Wazel’s. Now he is a proud Terrapin Guardian, but previously he worked as a poacher. Back then, Pakcik felt lost without a sense of purpose. He did not have a sense of belonging as part of his community, despite having lived in Kg. Pasir Gajah for decades. When he agreed to work with TCS to save the terrapins, things started to improve. His community noticed his endeavours. He started to gain identity, respect, and acknowledgement from his fellow villagers, even acquiring a nickname – “Wazel Tuntung” (Tuntung is the local name for terrapin or river turtle). As a consequence of his actions and of TCS, the local community started taking interest in conserving the local terrapin population.
Happily, Pakcik’s story is not just one of a kind. There are other inspirational stories of amazing individuals helping to transform their communities while saving animals.
Community Empowerment by collaborating on hand-crafted merchandise
One such story is about the Community Empowerment Programme which TCS developed in 2019. The programme aims to empower the local womenfolk. Many are full-time housewives with no prior work experience. By creating a sewing group and combining this with the local traditional art of Batik, the project has flourished. TCS now sells a variety of beautiful turtle-inspired merchandise. What’s more, the women have some financial independence and stability in their lives.