One day in the life of Rashidah Maqbool Rehman
“Since childhood I have always been intrigued by wildlife and nature. When I was young, there was a forested hill near my house which we used to climb in search of unusual insects and plants. I loved the beautiful scenery there, but sadly, it is now gone for the sake of development. That’s why I do what I do now.”
This passion to protect the forests of Malaysia saw her complete a Forestry Diploma & Degree in the Faculty of Forestry, at the Universiti Putra Malaysia. In 2007, she joined WWF Malaysia’s Sabah office as a Forestry officer, and later moved on to become a Protected Areas officer, working at the forefront of the battle to stop unsustainable logging activities and improving Protected Areas management in the Heart of Borneo, as well as implementing sustainable forest and clean water management.
Rashidah’s previous forestry work involved working with timber companies to assist them to achieve credible certification via WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) program, also assisting them to carry out High Conservation Value Forest (HCVF) assessments on their concessions.
The GFTN is a WWF global initiative to combat illegal and unsustainable logging by promoting responsible forest management of valuable and threatened forests, not only in the Heart of Borneo but the Amazon, the Congo Basin and other areas where forests are threatened. GFTN assists companies in evaluating their procurement and implementing appropriate action plans to ensure sustainable supply.
Just the words the Amazon, the Congo Basin and the Heart of Borneo conjure up images of wild action and adventure. In contrast, Rashidah admits much of her work involves long hours in the office recording, monitoring and reporting on her findings, negotiating with timber companies and the inevitable administration of it all.
“It can be mean long hours at the desk at times - but it is it worth it. When we see our efforts are recognised, acknowledged and finally adopted by the community, the government and others involved - nothing beats working in this area,” she says.
One of the most rewarding parts of Rashidah’s role is assisting in training and enhancing the skills of local Park Rangers to sustainably manage the conservation area.
“We recently held a training course with rangers to strengthen their navigation, map reading and GPS skills in Sabah’s Maliau Basin, which is a stunning area, selected for cluster world heritage nomination, together with Danum Valley and Imbak Canyon Conservation Area,”
“This may not sound like a big deal to many, but these skills are critical if we are to efficiently manage our forests and collect the data required to protect the most threatened and biologically significant regions of Sabah and Sarawak. To see our rangers develop into better skilled conservationists is really rewarding,” she passionately adds.
Rashidah’s job involves not only protecting the forests of Sabah, but she is also focused on managing a freshwater strategy for a water catchment in the Tambunan area of Sabah.
“We are trying to protect the fragile ecoystem of the river and aquatic wildlife in Tambunan, while at the same time assisting the community to develop sustainable income, which does not deplete the natural environment. So far we have managed to get one of the schools in the project area to be listed in the Eco-School program. Eco-school is an international initiative designed to guide schools in implementing a whole-school approach towards environmental and sustainability education. It’s an holistic, participatory approach, with a combination of learning and action which makes it an ideal way for schools to embark on a path to improved environments in their area. We have also undertaken a 4 day Scientific Expedition in the Liwagu area, the expedition focuses on 5 main research topics (water quality, community, aquatic insects, Fish and leaf beetle diversity. The findings from the expedition shows that the area is still in almost pristine conditions,” Rashidah says.
The greatest challenge
You would think the pressures of working in remote locations, dealing with timber companies,community members and negotiating with all levels of government would be the most challenging parts of Rashidah’s job, but not so.The main challenges are much closer to home.
“Dealing with such varied stakeholders on environmental issues, I have to be away from family too often. As I’m recently married, it is really something very challenging. I don’t want my husband to feel alone most of the time (she adds with a laugh), but luckily he’s very understanding and supportive of me and my work, and that has made life and work easier.”
Despite the professional trials and tribulations, Rashidah’s hopes for the future of the planet have not diminished or been tempered by the reality of the challenges she has faced since becoming involved with WWF.
“Conservation and nature have always been part of my work and I have always wanted to get involved. When I was studying at university, I still remember one big case of tiger poaching in Malaysia, in Kelantan. The authorities found a tiger’s dismembered body in one of the local community freezers. It was a big shock and received much media attention and public outcry. I wrote to WWF-Malaysia expressing my views and what I felt and hoped for in the future survival of tigers. And guess what? I received a reply from WWF - and it was like the best day ever for me!
“WWF was top of my list of places to work, and then… lucky me! I managed to get a job in WWF-Malaysia and 5 years on, I’m still passionate about my work and the conservation work that we are involved in with the support of our donors and stakeholders.”