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Conservation and Bukit Fraser

My field trip to Bukit Fraser with Untamed Paths, nestled in the heart of Malaysia, was a rewarding conclusion to my most recent time in Southeast Asia. A day and a night spent there engaged in herpetology, entomology, and ornithology identification not only served as an active adventure but highlighted the necessity and relevance of the wildlife regulations that I am engaged in crafting and implementing.

The journey to Bukit Fraser, also known as Fraser’s Hill, offered a thrilling prelude to what lay ahead. The verdant montane rainforest, a 1,500-meter high hotspot of biodiversity, introduced itself in a montage of lush foliage and inviting avian calls. The serenity was occasionally pierced by the rustle of leaves, hinting at the unseen residents of the forest floor.

The day started with ornithological identification, capitalizing on the morning chorus. Bukit Fraser is a hotspot for birders, boasting over 270 bird species, including rare endemic species. Our team catalogued various species including the Malaysian pied fantail and the Malayan laughingthrush. This exercise underscored the role of ornithology in wildlife trade regulation: birds are often targeted for their vibrant feathers and melodic songs.

Bukit Fraser is also home to a variety of herpetofauna, including frogs, snakes, and lizards. During our evening walk, we encountered several species of these reptiles and amphibians. Notably, we spotted the Siamese peninsula pit viper, a fascinating species that blends remarkably well with the leafy forest.

Siamese peninsula pit viper (Trimeresurus fucatus)

The insect biodiversity in Bukit Fraser is also astonishing, ranging from industrious ants to colorful butterflies to intriguing beetles. I really enjoyed my encounters with the stick insects, who blended in so majestically with the low hanging foliage. During our time in the field, the team set up a light trap that collected hundreds of different species of moths, cicadas, and beetles.

Thinopteryx crocoptera
Light trap
Light trap the next morning. Notice the amount of insects still remaining.

The field trip was a powerful reminder of the diversity and complexity of the ecosystems that our regulations aim to protect. From the intricate bird calls in the morning to the hypnotic rhythm of insect symphonies at night, each element forms an irreplaceable thread in the ecological tapestry. A holistic understanding of these elements is crucial to devise effective regulations, highlighting the species and ecosystems most vulnerable to illegal wildlife trade.

This foray into the field gave me a deep, personal appreciation of unique species and ecosystems and reinforced the importance of the work that we, as international wildlife trade regulators—through CITES and other laws, do in shaping the balance between human needs and wildlife conservation.

The journey to Bukit Fraser also underscored the significance of firsthand fieldwork experience. The rigorous process of identification and up close observations of diverse species presented a perspective that words often fail to convey. It brings home how each permit issued carries a weight of responsibility not only to the species it concerns but also to the ecosystems they inhabit and the global biodiversity they represent. The experience at Bukit Fraser served as a profound reminder of the invaluable beauty of biodiversity and the urgent need to protect it through effective regulation and sustainable practices.

Malayan jungle nymph (Heteropteryx dilatata)
A variety of longhorn beetle
Our field trippers

World Wildlife Day

Today marks the 9th annual World Wildlife Day and the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). I was fortunate to play a role in assisting and participating in this week’s events in Washington, D.C.

This day is important as it honors one of the most effective international agreements for wildlife conservation and calls attention to the continued need for vigilance in curbing the extinction of endangered species and ecosystem destruction.

It was my first World Wildlife Day as a representative of the United States and it felt special knowing that my country was the catalyst for the treaty (It was negotiated and signed here in Washington, D.C., hence its alternative name, the Washington Convention) and continues to play an essential role in maintaining its viability as an effective tool in making the wildlife trade sustainable and traceable across the globe.

I snapped some shots along the way. Thanks to all of my colleagues, Heidi Ruffler, Charlotte Hacker, Emily Ronis, Olivia Loyack, Rachel Jacobs, Debra Abercrombie, Thomas Leuteritz, Frank Kohn, Don Morgan, and many others for making this event a success:

USFWS Office of Law Enforcement Booth
World Wildlife Day Illustrations From This and Past Years (Click For Larger Image)
CITES Achievements (Click For Larger Image)
Making Final Preparations (Photo by Charlotte Hacker)
The Big Boss Giving the Keynote (Click For Larger Image)
Singaporean and Malaysian Representatives Discussing Their Conservation Work (Click For Larger Image)
World Wildlife Day International Youth Art Contest Winner: Illustration of a Great Hornbill (Buceros bicornis)

In Memoriam Laura Goldin

I was saddened to hear the news that my undergraduate thesis advisor, Laura Goldin, passed away late last week. Much of what I have been able to accomplish in my career in conservation—its catalyst—can be attributed to her. She was a tireless advocate for her students and a trailblazer, being part of the first class of women to graduate from Yale.

I remember being a teenager uncertain of my place in the world. It was that first meeting with her at the Gerstenzang Science Library where I felt I may have a home academically at Brandeis. During my time in school she managed to nurture my interests and gave me pointers when she could in spite of the demands that she had as an attorney, chair professor, and undergraduate advising head.

After graduation, I would make the trip back to campus and see Laura Goldin. She gave me this advice that I have remembered many years since I had first returned to campus as an alumnus, “Don’t be concerned about being unsung because it is the work that matters.” The last few times we spoke I shared with her my desire to give back to Brandeis:

Dear Phil,

I was so pleased to see your generous offer to act as mentor for environmental studies students. How very like you, and what a wonderful asset you can be for the students and the department!

I expected to remain much longer in ENVS but serious health problems made that impossible. Please know that I am thrilled to learn how you have so beautifully pursued your career dream so faithfully!

I’m always very very happy to learn more about how you are doing, and to hear from you. I have remained in touch with a number of special students like you.

My best wishes always,


Laura Goldin

Messages like these from someone I admire really do make a difference when you’re facing enormous odds like many of us do in the conservation field to save endangered species in light of what is a rapid descent into a sixth mass extinction. However, Laura Goldin reminded me that it’s what you can do in your circumstances and not letting cynicism get to you that matters.

I will miss her terribly and countless others who have been touched by her compassion, warmth, and intellect will as well.

Her funeral will be held virtually on Thursday, February 9th at 11 AM Eastern Time here.

Class presentation
General Conner told General Eisenhower a saying that reflects what Laura Goldin accomplished, “Always take your job seriously, never yourself.”
Summer at Cape Cod

Year in Review 2022

Is there any point in your life where you do not change as a person? The nature of existing as a human being is change. That change could be for better or for worse but the only certainty is nothing will ever remain the same on a human or a universal scale–unless you count heat death. When I was younger I had a feeling when positive things happened that something negative would occur in the future and vice versa. It’s an intuition that has borne out but it could also be my convenient classification of good and bad.


Election Day

Death Cab For Cutie

I’ve never seen Death Cab for Cutie live in concert before and when I saw them last week they did not disappoint. Even though they’re on tour for their new album they played a lot of their old stuff which was great for someone who hasn’t listened to anything from them post-2010.


Brian and Zenia

Pasadena, CA 2022.08.27

Hackensack River

Who knew interstates could be pretty.
Leaving Tri-State 2022.03