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Ultra-rich and awareness to save jumbos!
Published on: Sunday, December 17, 2017
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THE latest warning is Sabah's elephants may go the same way of the Sumatran rhino – destined for extinction. But the heart is going to need the help of a big purse to prevent that from happening, renowned American animal behaviourist, Katerina Pirelli believes.

So what about getting ultra-rich tourists to Sabah for lecture-style eco-tours and at the same time buy up lands deemed the jumbos' critical migration routes to avert extinction?

Yes, that's precisely the idea Katerina is working on by signing a pact with Borneo Conservation Trust on November 22.

Money and awareness is critical at this juncture, says Katerina, a trainer of animals for 20 years for movies and television on just about any animal, ranging from lions, tigers, bears and kangaroos, reptiles and primates among others.

Daily Express noticed her presence at the Nov 30-31 International Workshop on the Banteng held in Le Meridien Hotel but did not know she was into this bold initiative, until Sabah Nature Club founder, Omar introduced Katerina – founder of Borneo Wildlife Preservation (BWP).

With clear diction, an articulate Katerina expounded her vision and mission.

She said: "Basically, we in Borneo Wildlife Preservation and Borneo Conservation Trust have collaborated with a Memorandum of Understanding to put our efforts together to help progress the Bornean pygmy elephant survival."

Lecture-style eco tours for ultra-rich

"We are helping Borneo Conservation Trust to purchase land in fragmented forests to connect fragmented migration routes for the elephants with tree planting projects.

"We are also purchasing land to preserve some lands that are already forests for the migrating elephants along the Kinabatangan river," Katerina said.

To get it off the ground, she said she had been working with one Josephine.

"We have been travelling together throughout Sabah, trying to put together an eco tour – a lecture style eco tour geared towards the ultra-rich to come from Europe and the United States to view some of the rainforests of Borneo."

She noted: "Right now there are luxury cruise coming here on private yachts. They come to Borneo and various parts of the island, including Kota Kinabalu and different parts of Sabah.

"But my idea is to try to bring in more luxury tourists seeking luxury and to help them with conservation efforts with the pygmy elephant, along with the Orangutan and Proboscis monkey, because these three animals are all with the same migration routes."

The big idea – Conservation

"The big idea is conservation and protecting these animals because I don't honestly see that poaching is decreasing," she explained her drive to arrest the decline..

From what I have learnt, it doesn't look like next year 2018 is any better for the elephants.

"So I think awareness is the key and BCT has had basically the same intention as far as the conservation with these elephants as BWP," she said.

But Katerina said she knows full well to ensure a certain future outcome, she must sow the seeds now.

So, besides the ultra-rich, she goes for influencing children – lots of them!

"The other thing is I am connected to a lot of children advocates who advocate for the animals with BWP and we would like to bring some of these kids over to reach some of the local children about some things that maybe they don't know and maybe how precious their rainforests are," she told Daily Express.

Tapping into the rising super plant foods movement

But what's the most instructive way to say rainforests are precious.

The adage that 'the way to a man's heart is through the stomach' provides an idea.

This time, through creative super plant foods as a tribute to the rainforests.

"Actually in the US and some parts of Europe , plant-based foods is really a very big movement, people are going more towards plant based super foods," Katerina noted.

"We feel that if we can teach the children how important some of these foods are that come from their rainforests like the Lingtze mushrooms etc that come from their backyards because we pay a lot of money to get them in powder form, maybe they will be more likely to protect it and get interested in their forests as well as the animals."

Daniel's Breakfast Burst & the amazing duiran

Katerina showed Daily Express a video of articulate young boy advocate Daniel Bissonnette as a voice for Borneo wildlife and 'Daniel's Breakfast Burst' to get kids instead of eating animal products, eat more plants foods!

Pre-teen Bissonnette has actually published a book detailing his super plant foods recipe and they are into enterprises like growing their own bananas, berries, recycling practices and sustainability.

"I think when children speak to children, it's more powerful because they are peers, planting the seed from a young age.

"The mushrooms and fungus, exotic food here like the durian and jackfruit are so beneficial to health they are amazing," she noted.

"I just ate one durian and there's so much improvement of eyesight and vision in one day."

Jimmy Omar's Nature Club

Jimmy Omar, who pioneered the Sabah Nature Club in 1988, agrees.

"That's why I started the Nature Club, to inculcate the love for nature so that our younger generation are more conducive to what's going on in the world nowadays and that they will know why we should conserve our nature and wildlife, remains ongoing and even Peninsula Malaysia copied Sabah and started Nature Club spread by the Malaysian Nature Society in Peninsula Malaysia."

To-date a body of more than 44,000 school children had gone through Sabah Nature Club, he said.

But what are they doing now?

"Some became lawyers, some nature tour guides, some work in WWF, some work with Sabah Forestry Department, some with national parks, some with Sabah Parks. Once a while I meet them who hailed: 'Hey teacher how are you and I would say who are you?' Then I tried to recall and they would say, I attended your nature club back in the early 90s and I would say, 'oh wow'."

The renowned animal behaviourist

We popped the inevitable background question.

"I am from Los Angeles and for the last 20 years I have been training exotic and domestic animals for movies and television as well."

What did she train them to do?

"Behaviour modification from lions to tigers, bears, kangaroos, cats and all the animals and basically any animal you see in the movies is a trained animal," she said.

"I started out working with reptiles and bugs while I was still going to school, then I moved into primates which is my specialty and then I have worked all over the world – Morocco, Libya, Mexico, Europe."

But how come this sudden interest on conservation of the Bornean elephants?

Elephant urgency – not many left

She said: "Elephants and primate are my favourite from Day One."

"But the Pygmy elephant I learnt probably 20 years ago and when I was in Africa, I thought one day I want to work with these elephants because I know there weren't that many left."

"So I decided instead of more like exploiting animals from movies and television but I am not saying that is a bad thing because it is necessary for education, there always has to be an ambassador for the species in order to teach the general public to appreciate them."

"I decided to give back instead, kind of trying to help the wild animals before it's too late because we are not doing them any favours, we just continue to talk about it and not get our hands into it."

A race against time

So it's a race against time with a new focus and interest.

"I no longer train animals for movies and TV, I basically involve with education, doing talks and speaking about Borneo and the animals here," she said.

"My primary focus is the Proboscis monkey, the Pygmy elephant and the Orangutan but right now is basically the BWP collaboration with BCT."

But why pick the Proboscis monkey, too?

"The Proboscis monkey are hard to keep in captivity and I know they don't do well in captivity so really isn't many in zoos and so a lot of people don't know about them but they are such an interesting monkey, they are gentlemanly and I really find them very interesting."

"And it's easy to pack them right on same boat but the other thing is they are endangered as well so they need a voice."

Triple win for Planet, People and Profit

Katerina agrees with the 3Ps – people, planet and profit or the triple-win idea. "Yes, the three together," she said.

"Don't get me wrong, we are not saying just save the animals, we are going to get the locals involved to make them want to protect their animals because they are going to get income from it with the tourists."

Jimmy concurred.

"We also involve the local community to conserve the area we are talking about, such as the Kinabatangan area, say the wildlife green corridor over there."

"Involving the local community to participate in such programme they get the benefits themselves so this is very important – to stress on the benefits of conservation, the benefits of highlighting our animals," Jimmy said.

In conclusion, Jimmy says Borneo Conservation Trust is hopeful.

"We feel lucky because actually we were introduced by the Sabah Wildlife Department as the right NGO to handle the connection with Borneo Wildlife Preservation from the States to have the MoU with them. - Kan Yaw Chong FRIJ, FRIW


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