My personal statement

As I was wondering what should I write to make my blog more interesting, I dug out an old document-my personal statement, which I originally wrote in 1997 but revised in 2003. This statement was written for a scholarship application when I was still an undergraduate student in University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, USA. Unfortunately, I did not win the scholarship but the Dean of School of Forestry was very kind to write me a letter saying that my application has been declined due to high competitive, bla, bla, bla, etc. and encourage to apply again next time. I did, in 2002, and 2003. Because I like this statement a lot, especially the quote from Jane Goodall, I revised it and used it again. Guess what? I still did not awarded with a scholarship, not even a cheap one. As usual, the Dean wrote me back a letter to thank me for applying, but unfortunately, my application failed due to the same old stories. So I still have to get back to work in Chinese restaurants in Missoula and be a teaching assistant (if I am lucky) to earn money for paying bills, tuition fees, and raised a family. At the same time, I saw a Malay Malaysian student has his “everything” paid for by the Malaysian government to study in UM…….

Anyway, I thought of sharing this statement with you all.


“Only if we understand, can we care.
Only if we care, will we help.
Only if we help, shall they be saved.”
--- Jane Goodall (1990)

Ever since I read this quote many years ago, I set up a lifelong goal for myself. This goal is to understand, to care, to help, and to save wildlife.

Since I was a first grader, “animal expert” was my ambition on the student record until the very last year in high school. Not surprisingly, my childhood was companioned by various kinds of pets. I became a successful pet breeder during my teenage. Studying abroad in Taiwan in 1989 was a turning point in my life. Although I was studying animal husbandry and veterinary, I had begun to appreciate wildlife even more when I was an active member in the student chapter of the Bird Watching Society. Through my binoculars, I learned to appreciate the beauty of wildlife, nature, and forest. Ironically, I also witnessed unlawful mist netting of wild birds, poaching of wildlife, illegal pet trades, and habitat degradation. I encountered my first orangutan being displayed to draw crowd at a local night market in Taiwan, and my first gibbon being cuddled by a motorist on a busy street. Both of these species are classify as “endangered,” protected by law, and originated from Malaysia.

Back home in Malaysia, the situation for wildlife did not get any batter. Vast tropical rainforests with extremely rich biodiversity were logged, cleared and converted to agriculture lands, monoculture plantations, and other human developments. Uncountable numbers of magnificent wildlife and plant species that were once inhabitants in these forests had disappeared due to deforestation. Many species became rare, endangered, and even extinct. Some cuddly species, such as baby orangutans and gibbons, were captured by poachers after killing its mother and sold to Taiwan as pets. The local Malaysian people care less because they are illiterate in conservation and environmental awareness. My passion and commitment to help wildlife multiplied as I witnessed this habitat degradation and wildlife species vanished from the forest. At the same time, I became even more aware of wildlife conservation issues through various wildlife research projects that I involved in Taiwan and Malaysia.

In 1994, I came to University of Montana to seek a dream that was considered as “difficult task” for many people from ordinary Asian family. The dream, which put me on a right track of my career, was to pursue a bachelor degree in Wildlife Biology. It took me more than four years to achieve the task because that dream has convinced me a higher education and knowledge is needed, if I wanted to be a successful “animal expert.” After nine years of majoring in wildlife biology and more than ten years involving in various wildlife researches and conservation activities, I have clearly identify my career goal as to become a distinguished wildlife biologist and educator who competently manage and conserve wildlife and other natural resources, especially in Southeast Asia where I came from. My most significant contribution to this field would be studying the ecology of Malayan sun bears (Helarcios malayanus) in a rainforest of Malaysian Borneo as a project for M.S. thesis. For the first time, the study revealed the mysterious life history of this little known bear and many ecological aspects of Bornean rainforest. The information gathered from this project has generated three scientific manuscripts either being published or to be publish in peer-review journals. Because of the conservation achievement from the project, I was appointed to co-chair the Sun Bear Expert Team for the Bear Specialist Group, IUCN/Species Survival Commission and International Association for Bear Research and Management.

My experience working in Southeast Asia shows desperate situation for the continuation of local forests. Much more work is needed to ensure the long-term survival of the native wildlife and forests. Thus, I plan to investigate the effects of logging and resource utilization of sun bears in rainforest of Borneo as my doctorate dissertation. The reasons for choosing to work on this topic are three fold: to study in detail the biology and status of sun bear that still remains poorly known and classify as “data deficient” by IUCN Red List of Threatened Species; to understand various ecological aspects and functions of rainforest that vulnerable to human activities; and to promote conservation awareness and environmental education of tropical rainforest in Southeast Asia. By studying an umbrella species and a top consumer in the rainforest ecosystem, I hope the knowledge gain from the study would improve resource management, wildlife conservation, and eventually, benefit local people, native wildlife, and other natural resources in Southeast Asian forests.

Today, wildlife conservation in Taiwan improves significantly because of the efforts from growing numbers of conservationists and awareness from the public. In many Southeast Asian countries, such as Indonesia and Philippine, the tropical forests are disappearing rapidly to a point where too late to do anything. In contrast, due to the economy and political stability, Malaysia still has a chance for conservationists to save the last stronghold of Southeast Asian rainforests and wildlife. We need distinguished biologists to train local students as conservationists and biologists, to educate public and government on the importance of conservation, and to study the flora and fauna in order to understand better its functions. I am and I was, trained as an “animal expert” or wildlife biologist for all these years. I hope to use these knowledge and training to do a great job in my career to conserve wildlife and forests. As a co-chair for the Sun Bear Expert Team, my duty is to ensure the long-term survival of Malayan sun bears and the forests they depend on throughout Southeast Asia. Perhaps the “they” in Jane Goodall’s quote denotes the chimpanzees in Gombe, Africa. To me, it denotes the wildlife in Malaysia.

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