Dr Wong Zhi Hoong (Cyren)
School of Arts and Social Sciences
Although he had been a student of writing, literature and film studies for the greater part of his academic career, his passion for Nature and the protection of ecologically vulnerable flora and fauna; as well as his support for the recognition of Indigenous Communities tribal land rights prompted Dr. Cyren Wong to pursue a PhD in the field of ecological and environmental anthropology instead.
The research Dr. Wong conducted for his PhD - an ethnographic study of biodiversity conservation, environmentalism, and ecotourism as indigenous responses to land insecurity - eventually brought him to the heart of two Semai communities living in the Bukit Kinta Rainforest, where he spend the better part of 16 months learning from the Semai people while collecting data in the field.
As a dissertation that inherently explores the intersections between human ecology and the ecology of plants and animals inhabiting these spaces, Dr. Wong believes that his research strongly advocates for greater (and more meaningful) discourse between the Social and Biological Sciences.
He advances the opinion that such discourses are long overdue, particularly in application of biodiversity conservation and the protection of ancestral and tribal lands of forest-dwelling indigenous peoples. This invitation for inter-disciplinary collaboration and discourse is reflected in some of the projects and grants his is involved in with the School of Science (where he also conducts several guest lectures), as well as in his capacity as the Malaysian Country Coordinator for the Global Immersions Guarantee Program (GIG).
Presently, he is also one of the two members of academic staff spearheading Monash University Malaysia's on-campus urban biodiversity projects, namely: the butterfly and pollinator garden, and the Library and Learning Commons' educational exhibition.
Outside of University, he considers himself an educator and activist for Biodiversity Conservation and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, and to that end, has founded the community platform "Naturetalksback" which has been up and running for the past 10 years.
PhD (Anthropology), Monash University, Malaysia
BA Hons (First Class Honours, Cultural Studies), Monash University, Malaysia
BA (Writing) Monash University, Malaysia
Dr Cyren Wong’s research primarily gravitates towards the study of human cultures and the natural environment. The bulk of his research thus far, focuses on the indigenous Orang Asal communities of Peninsular Malaysia. As part of his PhD studies, Dr Wong conducted an immersive ethnographic study of the Semai community of Ulu Geroh to better understand the role of indigenous perspectives in the long-term sustainability of community-based biodiversity conservation initiatives. His study not only highlighted the processes of power and negotiation involved in the translation of Orang Asal agendas within environmental protection and conservation frameworks, but also unearthed a wealth of ethnozoological and ethnobotanical knowledge of the Semai people.
Dr Wong is a firm believer that stronger collaborations forest-dwelling tribal communities and the status quo is necessary in building a more equitable and sustainable future. As a scholar on Indigenous Peoples, Dr Wong recognizes and acknowledges the intersections between community, identity, and land and thus hopes to promote the preservation of Indigenous Land rights, and foreground the vital role of Indigenous Wisdom within environmental and conservation-based discourses. The understanding of human ecology, or how societies are shaped by their environments, even as they continue to actively shape them, has bearings on discourses pertinent to several topics such as land use and long-term security of the Indigenous Communities.
Finally, his most recent venture includes attempts to bridge the gap between the Social and Natural Sciences, particularly concerning the twin discourses of Indigenous Peoples’ agendas and rights, and the protection of wildlife and the environment. On that note, Dr Wong has been aggressively pursuing opportunities for collaboration outside of the Arts. In most of his collaborations with the School of Science, Dr Wong brings with him a strong focus on the perspectives and agendas of local communities.
The Importance of Human Ecology in Biodiversity Conservation Education (2018-ongoing)
This research project, funded by the Monash University Malaysia Teaching and Learning Research grant, investigates the value of combining ethnographic methodology and scientific methods in the study and education of Biodiversity Conservation and Environmental protection in Malaysia. The point of departure for this project was that anthropological perspectives have not been given sufficient attention in the education of students who are most likely to pursue biodiversity conservation or environmental protection careers in the future. It does this through the creation of a new unit, tentatively titled Human Ecology, that is parked under the Tropical Environmental Biology (TEB) major of the School of Science. The unit is an elective (welcoming the participation of students from different disciplines) that will be conducted entirely in the field, involving a combination of workshops, seminars, and active participation of students with Indigenous Communities surrounding various relevant topics.
Investigating the roles of Human Ecology, Theories of Environmental Succession, and Community Involvement in the protection of local ecosystems (2018-ongoing)
Part of a larger campus-wide agenda to create and generate support and awareness on environmentalism and sustainable development, the main aims of this project is to evaluate the viability of implementing theories of environmental succession and human ecology in community-based conservation projects in the context of Sunway City. This is an ongoing and long-term project that is still in the stages of infancy. It involves the establishment of Butterfly Conservation Gardens in strategic locations such as parks and education institutions. At the current stage of its implementation, the project seeks to identify a list of suitable native host and flowering plants that are conducive to biodiversity protection, as well conceptualizing frameworks and programs to establish a citizen science project, and community-garden. Care and maintenance of these gardens, as well as the collection and reporting of data, will be conducted by members of the broader Sunway community. A pilot project has already began with the establishment of the Monash University Butterfly Garden.
The Impact of Widespread Mosquito Fogging on Non-Target Organisms in an Urban Environment (2019-2020)
One of his ongoing collaborations with Monash University Malaysia School of Science and Sunway University, this research project investigates the impact of poisons used for the fogging of mosquitoes on non-target organisms. The conceptual framework behind the project is to assess the effectiveness of fogging in controlling mosquito populations, as well as highlight some of its impacts on non-target organisms responsible for conducting valuable ecosystem services (such as insect pollinators, and insectivorous bees). As an underlying discourse, the project also seeks to engage with local communities regarding their attitudes towards regular fogging as a form of pest control, as well as their understanding of sustainability and the environment.
Dr Cyren Wong’s teaching expertise covers a broad area including Creative Writing (fiction), Cultural studies, Anthropology, and Ethnography. His teaching experience includes former work as an undergraduate tutor and lecturer with Monash University Malaysia, as well as primary and secondary level studies as a volunteer educator with Rohingya refugees and other underprivileged communities and groups.
In terms of teaching style and execution, Dr Wong’s philosophy is that experience makes the best teacher. He believes that students should be given freedom - within reason - to explore and experiment with their own academic interests and often permits them to embark on their own research projects, once having been equipped with the right theories, tools, and methods to use at their disposal. As such, many of Dr Wong’s classes and sessions often take the form of practical, hands-on “labs” or “workshops” in which he functions more as a facilitator, guiding students on their chosen topics to help them arrive at conclusions and understandings of their own. He believes that there are no clear limits to the intersection between knowledges and fields of study and often encourages his students to think upon how their own perspectives can add value to any discourses they are particularly interested in, however “unlikely” these discourses seem to complement their current area of study.
Under the guidance and direction of the Pro-Vice Chancellor, he is also in the midst of coming up with stronger active-learning content for Monash University Malaysia that integrates expertise and modules from different schools and disciplines. This includes a revisiting of already established items such as the Inter-cultural Enrichment Program, as well as the creation of new field-based units, such as Human Ecology and Special Topic in Social Science.
Wong, Z. H. (2018) "Synanthropy", Kapur-Zine,
Wong, Z. H. (2018) “Phalaenophily”, Kapur-Zine
Conference Paper Presentation
Wong, Z. H. (2017) "Representations of Nature and Semai Agency", paper presented at the Second International Conference on Cordillera Studies
Yek, S. H. and Z. H. Wong (2018): Human Ecology and Biodiversity in Monash Malaysia: Developing in-situ ecology and biodiversity projects in existing Tropical Environmental Biology units, as well as a new fully field-based unit on Human Ecology of Indigenous Communities, Learning and Teaching Research Grant, Monash University, RM10k
Yek, S. H. and Z. H. Wong (2018): Monash-Sunway decarbonization initiative. Biodiversity and Native-tree planting, Sunway Sustainability Community Grant Scheme (SCGS), Monash University, RM70k
Areas of Research & Supervision
As an academic supervisor, Dr. Wong is able to oversee projects that fall under the broader field of ecological anthropology of both urban and rural populations. Of particular interest to him, however, is research that deals with the ontologies, belief systems, practices, and livelihoods of forest-dwelling indigenous communities including but not limited to: human ecology, ethnozoology, and ethnobotany, with a strong focus on participant observation, and ethnography as a research method.