Dr Chen Pelf Nyok: Recipient of the Commonwealth Points of Light award
This week, Nairenon is sharing another inspiring Malaysian story of Dr Chen Pelf Nyok, the pioneer in protecting and rescuing Malaysia freshwater turtles. Since 2011, Dr Chen and her team have successfully rescued more than 7145 terrapin eggs from human consumption, and released more than 3669 hatchlings into the river.
What are freshwater turtles?
I’m sure you have heard of tortoises and sea turtles, but have you heard of freshwater turtles, aka terrapins? As mentioned in its name, freshwater turtles live in freshwater, hence they are typically found in rivers, ponds, and lakes.
Unlike sea turtles that have flippers for swimming in the sea, freshwater turtles have webbed feet with claws that enable them to walk on land and swim in the water. Besides, freshwater turtles are smaller in size compared to sea turtles.
Learn more about turtles: https://www.mybis.gov.my/art/250
When and how did it start?
Peninsular Malaysia is home to approximately 18 species of freshwater turtles and tortoises. However, more than half of them are currently endangered (Oh no!) due to a range of threats, such as pollution of rivers, harmful fishing gear, climate change, and overconsumption for food and medicine, which caused a severe decline in turtle species numbers and local populations.
Therefore, when Dr Chen discovered that the Southern River Terrapins were present in the Kemaman River (Terengganu), she worked with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks to initiate a river terrapin research and conservation project. Hence, the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia (TCS) was founded in 2011 with the mission to protect and conserve Malaysia’s turtles.
By studying turtle nesting numbers, their biology, and movement patterns, TCS has set up turtle hatcheries to breed and release grown turtles back into the wild. Aside from improving targets for population statistics, TCS also works alongside the local communities by educating and raising awareness, as well as discussing and consulting on turtle conservation issues. Involving the local communities not only has changed their perception and behaviour towards conserving turtles, but also created alternative sources of livelihood for the locals. Besides, TCS also runs some turtle awareness programs with schools and organizations to get everyone involved in protecting terrapins and turtles.
How can you and I be a part of Turtle Conservation Society’s initiatives?
As a team, Nairenon had the privilege to visit TCS in Terengganu to learn more about their initiatives and the river terrapins (Oh yes, it’s a wonderful experience). We visited their turtle gallery which houses numerous turtle info plates, shells and bones of turtles, and preserved specimens in jars. We also had the chance to visit their hatchery where the river terrapins eggs are incubated (although it was empty when we were there) and the head-starting pond where all the turtle hatchlings were raised before they are released. At the end of the trip, we adopted a few terrapins and released them back to the Kemaman River. ~ So long mate, see you in 20 years! (River terrapins take around 20 years to mature and come back to lay eggs.)
Interesting fact: the incubation temperature influences the gender of the turtles, whereby low temperature mostly produces male hatchlings and high temperature mostly produces female hatchlings.
Aside from visiting their centre in Terengganu, you can support TCS by becoming their life member to participate in their outreach activities, donating to help the river terrapins and the local communities, adopting a terrapin to support their conservation efforts, as well as purchasing their well-crafted merchandises that are made by the local womenfolk in Kampung Pasir Gajah.
Keen to be part of this amazing initiative? Reach out to the Turtle Conservation Society and be a Terrapin Guardian today!
Otherwise, talk to us to be part of our projects like this or Shyam Priah’s.