It was the last few days before the end of my final exams when my friend, Sarah had seen a call for internships at TCS and kindly invited me along. I had already made plans prior to this and my post-exam break wasn’t going to be long. This is also probably a good time to mention that I have an irrational fear towards animals. Would it still be wise to go? I was in such a need of a break and it was so easy to find reasons not to go but just out of curiosity I decided to at least take a scroll through the website. Funnily enough, that was all it took to change my mind.
Soon I was in Kemaman and was now listening to a briefing on TCS and the work the Society does. It was nice because we were not just expected to listen silently but to also be comfortable to ask questions and exchange thoughts and ideas. We only began our work the next day, beginning with the daily task of cleaning and feeding the rescued turtles at the field house. I do deal with animals as a biology student but it is not always easy to control my fears. Luckily, my friends (the two other interns) were so encouraging that I gradually found the confidence to pick a turtle up. I began with the small blind terrapin that was being cared for separately which I now miss dearly. On days when my fears felt too real, my friends would kindly hold down the bigger turtles for me to brush.
Some days, we would go to the terrapin conservation centre at Kg. Pasir Gajah. I cannot give an exact figure but to me it felt like there were hundreds of terrapin hatchlings swimming in the pool and we would have to go in there to clean the pond and brush the algae off their shells. You can probably tell by now that was not going to be easy for me but again, my friends were there to help. I had so much fun washing so many terrapin shells and scanning them to check their microchips. We were also given the chance to microchip them ourselves and I did not feel that scared anymore. Almost every night, we would camp out at the riverbank while we waited for female terrapins to lay their eggs. Unfortunately, we were not able to see any because it was not really the time yet but we did manage to see a large terrapin crawl up on the nesting bank right in front of our eyes! I cannot be grateful enough that I was able to overcome my initial fears and reluctances. In the end, this experience was way more fun and valuable than the plans I had made before.
We were also given other tasks such as creating posters and infographics, which actually allowed me to learn more about turtles! One of the biggest tasks we had was to take pictures of the products of the TCS shop which you can now see when you visit their online shop. These merchandise were handmade by the local women so by purchasing them, you are also empowering the local community.
It is so hard to put into words how much love and respect I have for TCS and all that it does in its conservation efforts as well as educating people globally on all types of turtles but especially terrapins. I also love their way of treating the local community. They were able to turn the same people who used to consume terrapin eggs into the people who are now part of the conservation effort. All while treating them like family.
If you are reading this and can relate to me, I hope that you too find just enough curiosity to overcome your fear. I also hope this writing encourages you to support local conservation efforts like TCS. I was so lucky to have had the opportunity to work there even for a short time. Thank you to Dr. Chen, Along, Aliah, Sarah, Amal and all the people I met there that had made every second I was there a happy one!