New resolution in life

PhD is my Disneyland. It is a goal to finish it, but yes, how much longer? Am I there yet?

Along the journey, I discover that I am a novice in social science research, who often feel that I lack the skills and experience to do interview-based research. As I transcribe the interviews, I can see what went wrong with the way I phrase my questions as well as when I asked the questions. It bothers me because then I think, shit, will I be able to eventually get it right and gather the information I need?

After watching this video, I realised that I feel like that because I focus so much on the goal that I missed out on the values I gain throughout the journey. What went wrong in the initial data collection provides an opportunity to learn and improve. The more interviews I did, the more I get to practise and improve. I learn not to interrupt or ‘fill in the blanks’ to their answers. I learn to phrase open-ended questions to understand the meaning of their words. I learn to keep my conservation views to myself and not to have any preconceptions about their conservation perspectives. It did not occur to me how much I have learned from just doing the research as I am too occupied worrying when I will complete the study.

I am the kind of person who needs a fixed structure, following guidelines of how to do (which is why I like reading step-by-step instructions). But then there is no direct step-by-step guideline in conducting in-dept interviews. It is not like using a washing machine; first, I press the on/off button, then I choose the programme (speedy, water level, etc), pour in washing powder/liquid and click start. Voila, it starts washing my clothes. All I do the next time is repeat the same steps.

However, qualitative research using interviews is not like running a washing machine or any other machines. When the machine does not work, then something is wrong, and there will be no data. When that happens, I need to set it right, e.g. setting the parameters to ensure that the machine runs accordingly. Well, it is just not like that in research involving humans where nothing is really under control.

Since I am not doing questionnaire surveys, my questions are not fixed, meaning my questions are rephrased when I interview different people. It is something I learn, not just to listen, but to know how to ask the right questions while still being sensitive to their and my body language. There are no step-by-step guidelines to that. A lot of times I think, damn, it is easier studying animals. I trap squirrel A and I collect biometric data. Then I trap squirrel B and do that same. Different squirrels may respond differently to physical capture but what I do is repetitive.

Hence, I do not find social science research particularly simple or straight forward. Well, studying humans or anything human-related is neither simple nor straight forward since humans are complex and complicated, filled with emotions and whatsoever. Nonetheless, it has been an enlightening path and the values I get would probably help in one way or another to deal or work with different people in conservation.

Well, I am not trying to set new year resolutions merely because a new year has just begun. It is just something that struck me while I watched this video about goal-focused life and value-focused life. So I’d say have goals in life and also value the process of achieving the goals. I guess that is what mindfulness is, or in other words, live in the moment!


Wildlife Tourism – For Conservation or Profit?

Photos showing human-wildlife interactions such as riding elephants, holding sea turtles, kissing dolphins, watching animal performance that show up on social media always attract a lot of attention and critics if animal rights come into the picture. It is not right to harm wildlife for the sake’s of human satisfaction but to totally prevent such interactions are challenging. Nonetheless, we should try to minimise any negative impacts arising from these interactions.

As a kid, I had been to circus where animals performed and I remembered being happy! I was unaware of the ugly side of how these animals are being trained to perform. As I grew up, I started learn about it and movie like “Water for Elephants” just shows how bad the animals are being treated. Of course, the internet has also provided a platform where people can read about, for example the worst tourist attractions for wildlife that are detrimental to wildlife. For some human-wildlife interactions, the line between right or wrong is blurred. However, ignorant act that has adverse effects on animals like bringing a dolphin on land for photography, knowing that it would not survive long out of water, is something that could and should be avoided. As for many other cases, whether it is right or wrong is often debatable.

I once visited the Elephant Village near Kenyir Lake in Terengganu, Malaysia, when it was newly opened for visitors. It is supposed to be an area gazetted as an elephant sanctuary due to the loss of habitats to development and human-elephant conflicts in some rural villages where the crops were destroyed by the elephants, which result in the killing of elephants. I was surprised to find out that visitors can pay more for an elephant performance. I feel that the elephants should have the freedom to live as they want and not being trained to perform shows for humans. Then I found out that these elephants were placed in a sanctuary as they were no longer safe in the wild but being put in a sanctuary managed by humans meaning these two species will have to learn to live with each other. Elephants are wild but can be tamed, which is the job of the trainers. Towards the end of the visit by a stream, the staff requested the trainers to bring the elephants out for a shower so that the visitors can have a closer look at the elephants. I thought it was not necessary, if the elephants were not showering at that time, then be it, but many tourists came here to see elephants so I can understand why it was important for them to ensure that tourists actually see an elephant. Maintaining a sanctuary is costly and tourism can provide the revenue to support the running of the sanctuary. Although elephant performance could generate more fund, it would be a better place if the elephants did not have to perform like puppets in order to sustain themselves and the people working at the sanctuary. I met a few of the trainers with their elephants and after speaking to one of them, I realised although he was training an elephant, I could see that he actually cares for the elephant’s welfare. In fact, most people who work directly with the animals care for the animals and many enjoy the interactions with wildlife, but whether or not the animals also enjoy being trained and doing performance, I don’t know. Animals are probably like humans, they probably do not always want to perform when they are asked to, just as how humans sometimes feel lazy to work. Wildlife should just roam freely!

Try to take the time and effort to understand what is happening in sanctuaries that are established to protect wildlife. It is easy to assume it is not good to support tourist attractions involving wildlife but some need the revenue, usually from tourism, to conserve wildlife. Do avoid those that misuse or harm wildlife to make profit but for some, without the profit from tourism, the sanctuary may not sustainable. Sanctuaries can protect wildlife but getting wildlife to do certain tasks for entertainment was not necessary. While visiting wildlife sanctuaries, try not to ask for or give suggestions like wanting to see elephant making tricks, dolphin spinning a ball or orangutan solving puzzles, as there is a tendency to fulfill such needs to attract visitors and increase revenue. A sanctuary can raise awareness but it is not a circus!

With all the information available nowadays, people are aware of the negative consequences from tourism activities related to wildlife but it does not mean people buy it. I am not here to judge as everyone has different perceptions of what is right and what is not. When two or more species occupy the same space, it is essential to coexist despite the conflicts. Although wildlife usually avoid human contact, human-wildlife interactions are inevitable, especially in places where people pay to see wildlife. Wildlife tourism can be beneficial to species conservation if it is practised sustainably but not for human’s greed, otherwise animals will have to pay for a price to be saved from other threats that may kill them.


CAT Walks

My stay at SEATRU project at Redang was shortened because Ecoteer planned to join MYCAT to sight for wildlife’s tracks and markings and traps at Taman Negara. I had been to Taman Negara but I gotta say I’m not entirely a forest person. Even so, I was really looking forward for this trip as the whole Ecoteer island team would be going together! Most of the time, I think it’s the people and not the place that makes the day!

The travel from Perhentian to Taman Negara was quite a journey! A boat ride to Kuala Besut, a hell of time getting a cab to Tanah Merah railway station, a long and warm train journey and we finally reached Merapoh after 8 hours. Ash, Muna and Harrison picked us up from the station. Daniel, Charmaine, Pav and his team arrived at about 4am in the morning. The dormitory was huge!! I was excited to have such a spacious room and so many beds to choose from!

Our first CAT walk started early in the morning. We trekked in the jungle and along logging trails. I am not physically fit and hiking uphill sometimes scares me. However, the walk was not extreme jungle trekking at all. The only hardcore thing was to deal with the leeches! Gosh, they were everywhere! Ash gave us a helpful tip of spinning the head around as eventually the leech would feel dizzy and it made it easier to get them off the skin. Continue to roll them into a ball with the fingers, then ‘stick’ them away! In the beginning, it was gross to even touch and feel them but after a while, fear became fun!

It wasn’t easy to look out for tracks and at the same time looking ahead of me so that I don’t hit any branches. Besides my vision was narrowed to just a few steps ahead of me so that I could see where I set my foot on! Not really keen on doing the everyday-I’m-shuffling moves repeatedly. Everything comes with experience. I actually enjoyed learning to sigh for tracks and recognizing the wildlife tracks. The soil was muddy and tracks were easier to spot. We spotted tracks of wild boars, tigers and elephants! We also found scratch marks of tigers and sun bears on tree barks. There were also marks of elephants rubbing their trunks against the tree. I didn’t realised it was more than 5 hours of the trek that we did. Time just seemed to fly by. It was fun when all of us cooled ourselves down at the waterfalls. There were a lot of logs beneath but everyone had a great time. As usual, everyone started plashing and tossing others in the water!

Dinner was late as they had to grab food from Gua Musang, which was 20km away. It wasn’t past 9pm that we started eating…and drinking. We had a cake for Pavin’s birthday but he messed the icing and it became the birthday cake for Dan! Nevertheless, it was tasty! The craving for cake began when cake is not available anytime, anywhere on the island! Half way to getting drunk, we ran out of alcohol. A few of us took the long drive to grab more. Only Dan and Cam were awake, thus the party went on!

The CAT walk the next day was more tiring. Lack of sleep and post-alcohol effects made it worse. We wanted to go to a waterfall. We walked along the streams. Initially I still tried to step from rock to rock across the stream. After a few times having my feet dipped in the water, the thought of having a dry feet was out of question! We didn’t make it to the waterfall as it might be slippery due to the rain. However, we did have a picnic by the stream. On the way back, we walked pass Gua Lagi Panjang. We also found a tree with scratches of sun bears and tigers.

We also learned how to set up camera traps and transfer the photos to the laptop. Everyone got really excited when we browse through the pictures. The camera captures picture of tigers, wild boars, leopards, elephants, tigers, etc. Most of the time, it is uncommon to see wildlife in the jungle but to be able to see them in pictures and know that they are still roaming around in the wild brings a smile on my face!

I learned a lot through this trip. If I have the opportunity in the future, I would definitely volunteer myself! Anyone who is interested can check on their calendar of events for any upcoming activities.