Chen Pelf Nyok

About yourself

I am a freshwater turtle researcher and conservationist. My research interests are the biology and ecology of the river terrapins—a rare species of freshwater turtles only found in Southern Thailand, Cambodia and Peninsular Malaysia. In 2011, I co-founded Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia (TCS), a non-profit and non-governmental organisation dedicated to freshwater turtle conservation in Malaysia. I am currently serving as its Executive Director, and Leader of the community-based terrapin conservation project.

Which ASAP species you are working to conserve, and can you tell us a little about your work?

Southern River Terrapin (Batagur affinis)

I have led the community-based river terrapin research and conservation project since 2011. I work with the local villagers, who are former egg poachers, to save terrapin eggs from human consumption. We incubate these eggs and headstart them for a few months before they are released into the river. I also collaborate with various entities to conduct scientific research projects on the species. Before COVID-19 (B.C.) I used to facilitate the execution of educational and public awareness programmes. I recently initiated a community empowerment programme where we train and empower local women to produce turtle batik merchandise that can be used as a tool for awareness, as well as to generate income to sustain their families and fundraising for TCS too.

What inspired you to start a career in conservation?

I’ve always had an affinity towards turtles, despite never having a pet turtle while growing up. I did my undergraduate degree in Marine Biology (not willingly) but after one semester, I started liking what I was learning. And the more I studied Marine Biology, the more the subject fascinated me.

Upon graduation, I took up a turtle research and conservation project and developed it into a Master’s research project. This project opened my eyes to other, more pressing issues that contribute to the current status of freshwater turtles in Malaysia. I dug deeper and deeper into the subject, and in 2019, I was awarded the first Ph.D. in the field of non-marine turtles in Malaysia.

My curiosity may have inspired me, but the people I meet in my day job have motivated me to continue on this unchartered path.

Chen Pelf Nyok by Kemaman River copy

How do you think the ASAP Women in Conservation Leadership Programme will help you in carrying out your work?

The Women in Conservation Leadership Programme has provided me with some form of “formal education” on skills required for me to carry out our projects. Prior to this, much of what I was doing in my capacity as Executive Director I learned on the job. While this was useful experience, having a formal education significantly shortens the time it takes to learn new skills, hence allowing me to achieve better results without having to “make many mistakes along the way.”

The programme has also provided me with materials that I can utilise to train our staff, to ensure that everybody in the team has some form of basic training in proposal writing, fundraising and communications. Without this basic training, staff and interns do not have the guiding principles, and may have to learn these skills on their own (this may take a longer time, or may not happen at all).

Pelf participated in Phase 1 of WiCLP and is also a part of the ongoing Phase 2 Visible Leadership Programme.