MSc Life Sciences Student, Yong Joon Yee wins USD$3,500 grant from Bat Conservation International!


The Bat Conservation International Student Scholar is awarded to exceptional student research projects that contribute to the understanding of human-caused environmental changes towards bats or interventions that help resolve human-bat conflict or answering behavioural or ecological questions that contribute to the protection of a bat species. The Verne and Marion Read Bat Conservation Honor is an annual award to a student who inspires education and community action to protect bats around the world and address critical conservation needs.

Selected from a pool of numerous student applications from around the world, Joon Yee’s application highlighted the conservation actions being taken by him and Project Pteropus in been demonstrating the importance of flying foxes and other fruit bats as important pollinators to farmers across Malaysia. Joon Yee’s project supervisor, Prof Gopalasamy Reuben Clements commented that it was probably the communication of scientific research outputs to improve awareness among local communities that probably impressed the judges.

Joon Yee is extremely happy to be a recipient of the scholarship and the award. “I am very grateful to my supervisory team because I wouldn’t have received this award without their support and guidance” he said. When asked about what inspired his research project, he simply answered, “I love durians! And durians need bats!” Joon Yee explained further that learnt about the role bats played in durian pollination when he was an undergraduate student in environmental science at University of Nottingham Malaysia. He got hooked on the topic when he attended a presentation by Dr Sheema Abdul Aziz, the Principal Investigator of Project Pteropus and President of Rimba, on her work on bat conservation in Tioman Island. Since then, he became interested in pollinators and their fruits, specifically the relationship between bats and durians.

Life as a postgraduate student for Joon Yee began in January 2020 at the Department of Biological Sciences, School of Medical and Life Sciences, Sunway University. Professor Reuben, who is also prolific conservation scientist, expressed his delight in Joon Yee’s scholarship and award, “I’m very proud of Joon Yee and it was a nice bonus that he was chosen for the prestigious Verne and Marion Read Bat Conservation Honor. This is a fantastic recognition for his research passion, which evidently shone through as he had to compete with global talented student researchers for this award!”

Part of Joon Yee’s research also sees him as a research associate for Project Pteropus at Rimba, a Malaysian non-profit research enterprise that focuses on conservation science and communicating evidence-based solutions for environmental sustainability to policy makers. He participated in conducting outreach for several days to educate members of the public and durian growers on the role of flying foxes as important pollinators of durian. Joon Yee took the initiative to volunteer at a booth that Rimba set up at a major exposition organized by the durian industry. 

Although his fieldwork has been disrupted on 2020 with most of the year spent under lockdown, Joon Yee is very pleased that he managed to use the lab facilities at the Department of Biological Sciences (DBS) to continue his work on pollen identification. He is very grateful to the teaching and support staff at the department, for assisting in his lab work. “I have immense gratitude towards my supervisor, Prof Reuben for his patience and guidance throughout the duration of the project, as well as Dean of School, Prof Abhi Veerakumarasivam for support and advice on the project” he added.

Prof Reuben recalled meeting Joon Yee in early 2019 during a tropical biology field course that he was co-teaching. He noticed Joon Yee’s great enthusiasm and curiosity to learn about conservation issues in Malaysia then. “Overall, I find Joon Yee to be a bright, motivated, and diligent team player. It has been a pleasure supervising his work, which will contribute towards stronger protection for flying foxes. He is clearly passionate about bats and I foresee him establishing his name in the world of bat conservation!” said Prof Reuben. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic being attributed to bats, public perception on the animal has been very negative. Joon Yee hopes that his team’s research will eventually result in a ‘rebranding’ of bats into a more positive one as they are integral to our ecosystem beyond just pollinating durian flower.

The University is proud of Yong Joon Yee and wish him all the success in his research. We hope that he continues to be a champion of conservation science towards the sustainable development of our increasingly fragile ecosystem.