Mohd Khan Momin Khan, was born in 1935 in Taiping, Perak. Raised by his grandparents he displayed a keen interest in animals from an early age. Upon completing his secondary school education at King Edward VII School he applied and got a job in the Perak Game Department (now known as The Department of Wildlife and National Parks of Peninsular Malaysia – PERHILITAN). “I chose the wildlife service due to its attractive and adventurous field-work.” While elephant control dominated the field-work during his time as acting Game Warden in Perak he soon “tired of killing elephants” and began instead to work towards a more humane approach to elephant control. From 1964 to 1966 he attended a wildlife management course at University of California, Davis, USA, as a Fulbright scholar. His time there gave him the knowledge and practical experience in the science of wildlife management and national parks. This exposure later proved invaluable when, in 1971, he was appointed Chief Game Warden (now known as Director General).
As the Chief Game Warden he worked closely with his game rangers and officers to solve the human- elephant conflict. Khan pioneered the capture, handling technique and relocation of wild elephants in Malaysia – a method that was used in Assam, India, at the time. However, because the Assam lasso technique was inefficient in capturing elephants in the dense Malaysian jungles, he and his team developed the revolutionary drug capture technique. To date, approximately 1000 elephants in Malaysia have been captured and relocated via the drug capture technique as a result of Khan’s pioneering work. Two officers were sent to Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Singapore (Pulau Tekong) to capture and relocate elephants. The relocation of elephants is critical to Malaysia as these endangered keystone species is prone to conflict with people living in plantations and villages around the country.
In 1980, Khan went on to pioneer efforts in conserving the endemic Seladang (Gaur) since the population had declined to around 200. He set up the Jenderak Seladang and Deer Captive Breeding Centre in 1982 as an initiative to protect the Seladang and Deer from severely declining populations. The Malaysian Seladang (Bos gaurus) is an endangered species and is believed to be the largest and heaviest of all wild cattle. Threats to the species include hunting (mainly for their meat and horns), loss of habitat, and diseases that are transmitted by domestic cattle, such as foot-and-mouth disease. At present the Seladang breeding project by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) holds about 66 Seladang in captivity. The plan is to reintroduce these Seladang back into the forest in their respective habitat. Habitat suitability index analysis and disturbances by humans is being carried out as more Seladang will be released into other protected areas in the future.
Khan also conducted a four-year research on the endangered and endemic Malayan Tiger (Panthera tigris malayensis) and discovered that the population had critically declined to less than 250 tigers. Based on these research findings, the tiger, which is a national icon, was then classified as totally protected animal under the Protection of Wildlife Act (1972). With this total protection status, the tiger population then increased to an estimated range between 500 and 600 individual tigers.
Khan was also instrumental in establishing the Kuala Gandah National Elephant Conservation Centre in Pahang in 1978. The Centre is the base for the Elephant Unit, which began the elephant translocation programme in 1974. The Centre is the only one of its kind in Malaysia. As the home to a herd of resident elephants, the Centre also carries out public awareness activities related to the conservation of elephants in Malaysia. Over the past 30 years, the team has successfully relocated more than 1,000 wild elephants.
Khan has presented more than 40 papers in local and international conferences. He has also authored two books, namely Mamalia Semenanjung Malaysia and The Malayan Elephant – A Plan for its Conservation. These books have had a significant impact, especially for the palm oil industry which is trying to balance the impact of the industry on wildlife biodiversity and the environment. Khan recently published several new books on the Tapir, Tiger, Seladang, Rhinoceros and Elephant that he called the Big Five.
Khan spent 34 years in the service of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. He was the Director General for 21 years where he was closely involved with the World Conservation Union and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES).
He also served on the Save the Tiger Fund (STF) for 15 years; was the Chair of the Asian Rhino Specialist Group (AsRSG) from 1984 (when captive breeding of this complex species started) and stayed for more than 20 years during which time two Rhino calves were born (Andalas and Suci) at the Cincinnati Zoo in America. It proved that the first birth was not a fluke and he decided it was time for him to step down. As he was closely involved with the ASEAN Experts Group on Nature Conservation (ANC), Khan initiated the move to recognise the Kinabalu National Park in Sabah, the Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak and the Taman Negara National Park in the Peninsular as ASEAN Heritage Sites. After retirement in December 1992 he worked for two-and-a-half years for the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) during which a management plan was prepared for the Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary in Sarawak Malaysia.
An internationally well-respected figure in wildlife conservation and in pioneering the successful management of human-wildlife conflict Khan has dedicated much of his life to protecting wildlife and wildlife conservation efforts in Peninsular Malaysia. Khan was the sole Malaysian honored for his long-time dedication and significant contributions to conservation with the prestigious Sir Peter Scott Award for Conservation Merit in 2004. The Award is given out by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) which is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization. The Award was given to Khan in recognition of his many years of championing fauna conservation in Asia.
Khan has contributed substantially to the conservation of various species of wildlife and his efforts have shown significant success in managing the human-wildlife conflict. His continuous work in wildlife conservation has ensured the protection of numerous species in their original habitat and, in this regard, Khan has shown great leadership in wildlife conservation and protected areas management. His unerring commitment and dedication to wildlife and environmental conservation personifies the Spirit of Merdeka and its pursuit of excellence and contribution to the Nation.