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Malaysians pay homage to pioneering Catholic conservationist

British-born Kenneth Robert Saxby Proud helped set up the first nature reserve in Sarawak state in 1975
British-born Catholic environmental conservationist Kenneth Robert Saxby Proud set up the first nature reserve in the Christian-majority Sarawak state of Malaysia in 1975

British-born Catholic environmental conservationist Kenneth Robert Saxby Proud set up the first nature reserve in the Christian-majority Sarawak state of Malaysia in 1975. (Photo: The Borneo Post)

Published: April 18, 2023 12:04 PM GMT

Malaysians have paid tributes to British-born Catholic environmental conservationist Kenneth Robert Saxby Proud, who set up the first nature reserve in the Christian-majority Sarawak state and engaged in conservation works in Asia and Africa.

Proud, 75, died on April 14 due to cancer-linked complications. His body was cremated after funeral services at St. Joseph’s Cathedral church in Sarawak state, capital Kuching on April 17, The Borneo Post reported.

As per his final wish, Proud’s ashes will be scattered “‘amongst the nature in Sarawak” at a later date, family members said.

Proud left behind his wife Priscilla Fajardo-De Santis Proud, their four children Kirsty, Madeleine, Jamie and Stefan, and four grandchildren.

Many posted on social media to pay tributes to him for his pioneering conservation work, especially setting up Semenggoh Nature Reserve in Sarawak, a part of Borneo Island that spreads through Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

A graduate in ecology, Proud came to Sarawak in the 1970s with a plan to implement a nature conservation project in the forested areas in Sarawak and monitor the key wildlife species.

With Proud’s help, the Semenggoh Wildlife Center, Sarawak’s first nature reserve, was set up in 1975 with the primary goal of providing a sanctuary for orangutans who were injured, orphaned, or kept captive as illegal pets.

The nature reserve, which started with the objective of providing refuge for endangered mammals, birds, and reptiles is at present the biggest orangutan rehabilitation center in Sarawak.

Apart from orangutans, the nature reserve is also a habitat for rare flora and fauna including the giant squirrel, pigmy squirrel, gibbons, and splendid varieties of birds.

Proud also spent a considerable time documenting the various species of animals in the Bako National Park and helped in managing the area. Established in 1957, during the British colonial period, Bako is the oldest national park in the Kuching district in Sarawak.

Proud’s efforts led to some of his admirers and friends calling him 'The Pioneer of Conservation in Sarawak.’

His daughter, Madeline, said that her father always kept Borneo close to his heart.

“Upon retiring, Dad never failed to share how the island of Borneo had his heart, and that it was his ‘most favorite place’ in the world,” Madeleine said.

“Dad had done intensive conservation works in Sarawak from 1975 to 1980, as well as in several countries in Southeast Asia and Africa,” she further added.

“He had many fond memories in Kuching, including his works on [the] wildlife sanctuary,” Madeleine said.

Besides Sarawak, Proud was engaged in various wildlife conservation works in the Philippines, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Hong Kong, India, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Namibia, Tanzania, and Mauritius.

He wished to spend his retirement in Sarawak and returned to Kuching in 2012.

Madeleine stated that many of Proud’s friends and followers had shared about how he had helped change “their lives and global perspectives” through his interaction with them.

Sarawak, the largest state in Malaysia, has 13 national parks and seven nature reserves.

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