Just over forty years ago, in my 6th form school holidays, I helped out on the editorial team of the International Zoo Yearbook for the editor, Nicole Duplaix. Our office was one of a number along a tight corridor above the old Bird House at the London Zoo. At the far end was the large office of Peter Olney, Curator of Birds, and between him and us were the offices of the Fauna Preservation Society or FPS.
From what I recall, the FPS staff comprised a membership secretary, an admin officer and, on some days of the week, Maisie and Richard Fitter. Maisie was the editor of Oryx, and Richard – a well-known natural history author – was the FPS Honorary Secretary. Having to squeeze past each other in the corridor meant I got to know them, to learn about the work and aims of FPS, and to attend some of their meetings. I didn’t have much in the way of spare cash in those days, but I became a member of FPS and it was thus the first conservation organisation I ever joined, and the only one for which I kept up my annual payments through thick and thin.
Over the years – and the various changes of names from FPS to FFI – I became an avid reader of Oryx and even though I lived outside the UK for so many years kept up the connection. My wife received a critical £500 grant from FFI’s old 100% Fund to help cover expenses when writing up her graduate work on Siberut Island. I remember going to talk+buffet meetings of the society at which much older members took pity on the fact we couldn’t afford the buffet and brought plates of food to us so that we could continue mingling with the conservation community.
Much later, when I joined the World Bank I was pleased to work with FFI on GEF-financed conservation projects in Vietnam (Pu Luong-Ngoc Son-Cuc Phuong in northern Vietnam) and Indonesia (a media/forests project and an elephant project in Aceh which led, unwittingly, to the major involvement in Aceh after the tsunami) and have always been impressed by its grounded, field-based, community-supporting efforts.
And now I’m happy to be FFI Regional Director for Asia-Pacific. The headquarters has grown enormously – from the two full-time staff of 40 years ago to about 70 today, and the reach and impact have sky-rocketed. Oryx has changed out of all recognition from the black-and-white journal with no photos of the ‘60s and ‘70s, to the beautiful journal it is today – but it still has the ‘news in brief’ section that Maisie Fitter started and the flavour of its articles is still unique in the conservation world.
I’ve now been in the job for just two months and every day, supported by a sympathetic and understanding team, I am discovering new aspects of FFI’s – I can now say ‘our’ – work in the Asia-Pacific region which comprises about 70 projects in the seven countries where we are active: Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines, and Vietnam.
Next week I embark on my first trip to Asia in my new role. In some cases I’ll see seeing old friends but for the most part it will be new faces, new offices and in one case, Myanmar, a new country where FFI recently helped with the dramatic discovery of a new species of monkey.
My bag is packed and I’m ready to get on the road again.