IT was never in Sue Sheward’s dream that she would be receiving the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) award in the 2012 Queen’s New Year’s honours list.
MBE is the third highest ranking award which is bestowed on a person who has made a positive impact in his or her line of work.
The British national, who founded The Orangutan Appeal UK in 2001, was surprised when Queen Elizabeth II spoke about her charity work during the ceremony. The organisation helps fund the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah.
Sue, from Effingham in Surrey, United Kingdom, said there were between 40 and 50 award recipients and they were taught the protocol for the ceremony which included the queen saying a few words to recipients.
“But when I got there, the queen said: “Hello, you have been doing some really good work. I have been reading that you just moved some orangutan into the forest.
“I was so surprised and answered her, ‘Yes, ma’am’ instead of ‘Your Highness’,” she recalled saying at the ceremony at Windsor Castle, a moment that will live in her memory forever.
The recognition from the queen is not the only rewarding experience for the 74-year-old during her 18 years of arresting the decline of the orangutan population in Sabah.
Among the unforgettable work was when Sheward was involved in translocating the orangutan by helicopter into the deep forests in Tabin.
Air transport was used as there were no road access into the forests.
“When we released the apes into the jungle, we were overcome with emotion as the primates turned and looked at us, as if to say ‘thank you’ to us.”
She recalled having one orang-utan seated next to her during the journey.
“One of the orangutan was awake during the journey and decided to sit next to me. It was looking out into the dense jungle beneath us, with the hands on the window as we flew into Tabin.”
The centre has so far conducted six helicopter translocations for the orangutan.
Sue had taken a course at a university to better understand the endangered species prior to volunteering at the Sepilok centre in Sandakan, where she met the then officer-in-charge, Dr Sen Nathan.
She said Dr Nathan was initially sceptical of her intention to help the orangutan but was impressed with her dedication to the cause when Sheward raised RM12 million for wildlife conservation in a span of almost two decades.
She managed to get Chester Zoo to help by providing ape cages and exercise enclosures at the Sepilok centre as well as improving the quarantine area, and upgrading the facility by using durable stainless steel among others.
During the early days of the fundraising campaign, her first sum raised was just £5 (RM26) from a raffle held at a local pub where womenfolk chipped in by selling homemade fairy cakes.
The Orangutan Appeal also received the support from the Sabah government. Two orangutan were offered for adoption where the donors would receive updates on their development.
“The campaign took off amazingly. We have about 30,000 supporters all over the world.
“Some have been supporting us for 15 years while others are renewing their adoption pledges.
“I also give talks at schools, universities and corporate companies on our initiatives. I am happy to see that the message is spreading far and wide.
“Back in my hometown, people call me the ‘orangutan lady’ for my work,” said the grandmother of four who comes to Sabah twice every year.
When she started the Orang-utan Appeal, a 94-year-old Englishman who used to work for the first logging company in Borneo told her how remorseful he was for destroying their natural habitat.
At that time there was already a significant decline in the orang-utan population with the species living outside protected areas.
Sheward’s endless contributions and the state government’s commitment to have more forest reserves have helped boost conservation of the species.
The centre, which used to receive between 10 and 12 orphaned orangutan annually, received none last year.
“I wanted to protect all wildlife species in Sabah.
“We have done so much for orangutan and we are happy to see positive changes taking place. We are also looking at elephant conservation that is affected by the human-elephant conflict, as well as the pangolins which are prey to wildlife traffickers,” she said.
Sheward said the recent handover of three modified four-wheel-vehicles to the Sabah Wildlife Rescue here was part of the RM1 million pledge made by her last year for the conservation work in Sabah for the next five years.