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Brunei student at Leicester, UK, wins prestigious prize

Prize winner researches relationship between spatial techniques and wildlife habitat conservation using proboscis monkeys

Issued on 16 July 2010

A postgraduate student from Brunei, studying at the University of Leicester Department of Geography, has been awarded the Masters Dissertation Prize from the Royal Geographical Society’s Planning and Environment Research Group (PERG).

Khairunnisa Haji Ibrahim, now a lecturer at the Universiti Brunei Darusalam, was a Chevening Scholar while at Leicester, a prestigious award made by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office and administered by the British Council.

She won the PERG prize for her dissertation entitled, ‘Assessing proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) habitat along Sungai Brunei, Brunei Darussalam, using remote sensing and geographical information system’.

The PERG organizers noted that her dissertation used remote sensing to develop new assessment techniques for habitat destructions and commended Khairunnisa for her ‘great skill in the execution of this task, but also sensitivity to the limits and challenges of the technology.’

They added that the dissertation’s ‘exceptional achievement is to marry this technical ability to a sophisticated appreciation of how this kind of technical approach to conservation fits more broadly with the social, economic and political challenges.’

Khairunnisa Haji Ibrahim commented: “It is an honour to receive such recognition from the Royal Geographical Society, one of the oldest and most prestigious academic bodies on geography. I am thankful for this opportunity to highlight the important issue of wildlife habitat conservation.”

She chose the research topic to discover how spatial techniques can improve wildlife habitat conservation. “The proboscis monkey can only be found on Borneo, particularly in the mangrove forests,” she said. “Any destruction or deterioration of their habitats can therefore push them nearer to extinction. However, because of the pressures of development, their habitats are rapidly being cleared. It is critical that these habitats are mapped, so future projects do not harm those areas that are home to not just proboscis monkeys, but also a rich diversity of plants and animals.”

Khairunnisa also thanked her lecturers at the university, who provided her with invaluable training, assistance and advice, as well as her colleagues and friends for their support and companionship throughout her studies.

British High Commisisoner, Rob Fenn said: "The British High Commission congratulates Khairunnisa for achieving this special award from the Royal Geographical Society. She has proved herself a worthy recipient of the prestigious Chevening scholarship, which she was awarded in 2008 to study for a Masters of Science in Environmental Informatics at the University of Leicester. I hope this topical work could prove useful to Brunei. There are very few proboscis monkeys left and they are one of the most exciting attractions for visitors."

The proboscis monkey, distinguished by its large nose, occurs only on the island of Borneo. Once thought to inhabit only coastal areas, proboscis monkeys are now known to be more widespread across the island and it appears that their habitat has been eroded more than previously suspected.

Only about 7,000 proboscis monkeys are believed now to be in the wild, despite conservation efforts, and the species is classed as ‘endangered’.

Proboscis monkeys have a highly specialised digestive system, eating only certain seeds, leaves and unripe fruit found in the jungles and swamps of Borneo. Not only does this require them to forage over a large area, it also makes it almost impossible to keep the species in captivity.

The only successful captive colony, numbering just 17 Proboscis monkeys, is at Singapore Zoo.

Notes to Editors:

1/ Further details on Khairunnisa’s work are available from Khairunnisa Haji Ibrahim at khairunnisa.ibrahim@ubd.edu.bn.

2/ While studying in the UK, Khairunnisa sent an article with pictures of her to the British High Commission which can be viewed at http://ukinbrunei.fco.gov.uk/en/about-us/working-with-brunei/chevening-scholarship-scheme/scholars-artciles/khairunnisa-article

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