Laurel Chor’s journey as a wildlife conservationist has taken her to the middle of the ivory trade in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the jungles of the Central African Republic and the wild nooks of Hong Kong. But her eureka moment to pursue this passion for conservation started in an unlikely place — the bleachers of the gymnasium at the Hong Kong International School.
“Jane Goodall came to speak at my high school when I was a teenager,” she said. “I was instantly enthralled by her stories about her work with chimpanzees, and was inspired by how she followed her dreams to study animals in Africa despite being a relatively under-educated woman with few resources.”
That was in 2006, but it wasn’t until years later that Laurel heeded the call of the jungle. During her final semester at university, she took a couple of zoology and conservation classes and applied for entry-level primatology jobs, which led her to her stint as a research assistant for a gorilla conservation project in the Central African Republic. There, she would follow a gorilla family in the wild and record their behavioral data every day. When a natural anthrax outbreak occurred, she had to find the carcasses of animals that may have died from the disease. This task allowed her to venture beyond the usual paths, and she saw parts of the forest that people seldom went to.
Six years after their first encounter, Laurel met Jane again in London, interviewing her for a documentary about the illegal ivory trade in the DRC. “On that day, she asked me to become an ambassador for the Jane Goodall Institute Hong Kong,” she said.
These days, Laurel divides her time between her day job as a multimedia journalist and the Hong Kong Explorers Initiative, which she established with a grant from the National Geographic Society in 2013. Through this project, she aims to encourage people to explore the outdoors and discover Hong Kong’s flora and fauna.
“The city has a surprising, amazing wild side to it. The biodiversity of Hong Kong is so under-appreciated by its human inhabitants. I wanted to change that and have people join me as I explore and learn more about our incredibly green city,” she explains.
Laurel has indeed come a long way, from exploring little creepy-crawlies in her backyard when she was a child to championing the rich wildlife of her home city. Her passion mirrors that of Jane’s, and her love for the Earth is something to aspire to. “We only have one planet: we need it to be healthy so we can survive as a species,” she says. “It’s our responsibility to protect it and to repair the damage we’ve already done. This one planet we have also happens to be breathtakingly beautiful with its diversity of species and landscapes — and that alone makes it inherently worth preserving.”
This story first appeared in the September 2017 issue of Smile magazine.