Stephen was born and brought up in rural Norfolk in the UK, where he grew to appreciate the beautiful countryside and wildlife around him, particularly birds. His first job was with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), where he helped organise national bird surveys to monitor the status of the UK’s birds and other general bird-related research. After six years at the BTO, Stephen undertook a PhD on Turtle Doves at what is known now as the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), where he worked for about eight years. A post-doctoral research project on grey partridges and a chance encounter with a Cambodian student that he supervised, developed an interest in galliformes (pheasants and partridges), particularly those in SE Asia and China. Pursuing this interest he was able to travel to Asia a lot and maybe as a result, was extremely fortunate to be employed by FFI within its Asia-Pacific Programme. Stephen joined FFI in 2006 is now Director of Operations for its Asia-Pacific Programme, where he helps oversee the 70 odd projects across the seven countries that FFI works in. Stephen is currently based in Singapore, where he manages FFI office there and can provide direct support to the regional team.
The recent publication of Volume 6 of the Gibbon Journal, which is published by the Gibbon Conservation Alliance, Zürich, Switzerland and edited by Dr Thomas Geissmann, is the culmination of a lot of hard work by FFI and its partners.
I am sure that many people think that international conservation must be really exciting, consisting of going to glamorous places and doing amazing things to save the world’s most endangered species. If only that was the case. Frequently the reality is that long hours sat on a plane or in transit only result in days spent in hotels and meetings. Occasionally though, even this can be extremely exciting and rewarding, as exemplified by the recent International Primatological Society Congress in Kyoto, Japan. Through sponsorship from the Arcus Foundation, facilitated by the IUCN Primate Specialist Group, FFI was able to organise two symposia and two workshops to discuss the issues and to plan actions to help improve the conservation status of Nomascus and Hoolock gibbons. The funding enabled 15 people from seven Asian countries to attend.
Whilst all gibbon species are threatened with extinction, the genus Nomascus, the ‘crested gibbons’, is one of the most threatened, with four species within the genus currently listed as Critically Endangered and the other two considered Endangered. Habitat loss and opportunistic hunting are major threats. The survival of some Nomascus gibbon species is now completely dependent on in-situ conservation action. FFI is currently working with local partners, frequently government, in all countries where Nomascus gibbons are found, to implement conservation activities to protect these species.
Although collectively Hoolock gibbons (both western Hoolock hoolock and eastern Hoolock leuconedys) may be one of the least threatened gibbon species, intense pressure in recent decades is likely to have affected this status. Currently they are found in the forested areas of eastern India and Bangladesh to Myanmar and southern China, but it is estimated that there has been a 67% decrease in suitable habitat in recent year. As a result, Hoolock gibbons have experienced a dramatic population decline in all countries where they occur.
The workshops and symposia really showed that FFI, working through its partners, is at the forefront of conservation efforts to protect these gibbons. FFI has been championing conservation of several of the world’s rarest gibbon species for more than a decade and the organisation is working with local communities and government authorities across Asia to protect them and their habitat. Not only is FFI helping others to instigate conservation actions today that are making a difference, but this builds on previous work in which FFI’s surveys have discovered several previously unknown populations of gibbons across the region.
Ironically, gibbon conservation attracts much less funding than that of the great apes such as gorillas and orang-utans. The efforts of FFI and other like-minded organisations will need continuous investment and support for the foreseeable future to ensure the gibbons survival.
So, 24 hours sat in an airplane and seven days spent between hotel and meetings rooms can be exciting and can contribute to conservation of some of the world’s most endangered species. Whilst it might not seem as exciting as living in a tropical forest, coordinating conservation effort, prioritising funds and informing policy makers actually does have more far-reaching impact than field work alone.
This has very much been the case with the publication of the Gibbon Journal which has brought together the findings of the hoolock gibbon discussions at IPS congress in Japan into one, easily accessible place. The next Gibbon Journal will focus on Nomascus, so, watch this space.