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When every single tree matters

A former Sabahan UN staff’s way of making a difference to the state’s forest and wildlife

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically disrupted people’s lives and brought about huge changes to the way they live.

Positively, more and more people are now spending more time outside in green and natural spaces since government restrictions were introduced.  How it took a deadly virus to strengthen our connection with nature.

But for Sabahan, Premala Arulampalam, the pandemic has brought her out from the under-water environment into the forest, so to speak.

A trained marine biologist, Mala, as people fondly call her, spent many years working on things relating to the sea and ocean.

But Covid 19 took her out of water.

ONE TREE AT A TIME…Mala (far right) and her husband Adrian (second right) planting a tree so that fragmented forests can be joined for wildlife to freely move and continue their survival.

“During Covid when all of us were in lockdown, I started exploring the jungles, meeting local Sabahans who were very enthusiastic about keeping the nature in their own backyard safe, and joined some young researchers and photographers and we went on an adventure to learn about Borneo,” she told Borneo Pulse.

Mala has always had a heart for nature and wildlife ever since she was a young girl. Her dad had been a huge influence.

“I grew up in Tanjung Aru. Those days in the quarters they had big land around the houses. So, my father loved gardening. He used to keep ducks, chickens, dogs, geese, birds all over his garden, all walking freely around. So, from a young age we were not afraid of animals. Even when we see a snake my father would say if you leave it alone, it will go away,” she said.

After completing her studies in marine biology, Mala headed to Rome to work for the Food and Agriculture Organisation, a UN agency. From there, she was outsourced to many island countries like Fiji, Samoa and Samoa to teach communities about aquaculture, looking after the environment of the sea coastal areas, mangrove and seaweed planting.

She later came a full round to work on a business with her Swiss husband, Adrian, in Thailand to create awareness about the under-water world. The couple had also been involved in diving, underwater photography, conducting marine awareness talks in Kingdom.

FOR A GREENER FUTURE…Adrian giving back to Mother Nature.

When they finished their work there, they returned to Kota Kinabalu after which the pandemic hit. The lockdowns that followed had somehow been a sort of a calling for her reconnect with another side of Mother Nature.

“As a marine biologist, my work had been so much focused on what’s underwater. I rarely had the time to explore what’s on the land in my own home (Sabah),” she said.

Currently, Mala is actively involved with a local NGO called 1StopBorneo Wildlife (www.1stopborneo.org) especially in their work on connecting the fragmented forestsin and around Tawau Hills.

“Through this project, we encourage people to plant more trees because as we know we have a lot of wildlife in our backyard. Our challenge is that we have forests but they’re fragmented. We need to try to join them so that the animals can move freely.

“So, our organization has started a tree planting project in the corridors. So, for example Tawau Hills are always surrounded by oil palm areas. Some of the plantations have given land to create the corridors and now with the help of the people and volunteers we’re planting trees like fig trees, ‘laran’ and hardwood trees so the animals would be able to move and find food,” she said.

FOREST OUR HOME…Elephants need to move freely in the forest.

Mala is one of many Sabahans who have a deep sense of connection with nature in their own backyard and thanks to the pandemic, the number appears to be steadily growing, especially among young people.

Sir David Attenborough, the famous broadcaster and natural historian says: “Young people – they care. They know that this is the world that they’re going to grow up in, that they’re going to spend the rest of their lives in. But I think it’s more idealistic than that. They actually believe that humanity, human species, has no right to destroy and despoil regardless.”

Another famous quote of his goes: “We tend to think we are the be all and end all—but we’re not. The sooner we can realize that the natural world goes its way, not our way, the better.”

Mala and her husband’s act of giving back to Mother Nature may appear relatively small but it is not. As far as the state of the planet is concerned, everyone’s action in saving it counts.

DOING IT FOR WILDLIFE…Mala in the tree nursery.

The United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) promises a better future for the world, not only for humans, but for all living things. The lofty 17 goals would never see light of day without contribution of the people. The Agenda pledges not to leave anyone behind. Some say, no one must be left behind in the constant state of being indifferent to what is going on in the environment. All must come to an awareness and start making a small difference in the way they can.

“When you feel motivated and want to do something for the environment, start small. For example, you could use recyclable shopping bags,” Mala suggested.

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