How Cultural Heritage Can Be Harmful to Nature


“Your lifestyle may be destroying wildlife somewhere halfway around the world”, cautioned Laurel Chor, a freelance journalist and National Geographic Explorer from Hong Kong. “Reconnect with nature to save the world,” she said while presenting a seminar on the final day of the fourth edition of Xposure International Photography Festival.

Having spent her younger days in the concrete jungles of Hong Kong, Laurel was shocked when she came to know that the culture of her home built around the traditional Chinese medicine was indirectly responsible for the death of thousands of animals in the African jungles and elsewhere.

That is when she took her camera and headed off to Africa. As a National Geographic Explorer, she has documented the extensive devastation on the continent’s wildlife, fuelled by the demand of wildlife products in traditional Chinese medicine.

“Hong Kong is the largest legal ivory market in the world, largely driven by Chinese demand. The disconnect with nature is evident from the fact that seven out of ten Hong Kong residents are not aware that ivory comes from elephants. The huge demand for ivory in Hong Kong markets is leading to the killing of 33,000 elephants a year,” she told her audience at the region’s biggest photography event.

Hong Kong is also a major centre for shark fin trade, with up to 70 kg of seafood being consumed per person each year. The city is home to some rare species such as the pink dolphin, just about 30 of which are left in the Hong Kong waters, Laurel said. While 40 per cent of the green diversity of the city is protected, a lot of activity is taking place to undo this protection, she added. 

Realising the established trends for Chinese medicine, Laurel has taken up a project to understand the impact of such medicine on wildlife. “What is alarming is that the demand is being created for new products almost out of nothing,” she pointed out.

Chor said the solution to such a culturally entrenched problem is not in alienating people but in building bridges through real conversations. “The effort should be to raise awareness about the grave threat that people’s lifestyles may be having on the global biodiversity and their own existence,” she said.

Organised by the Sharjah Government Media Bureau (SGMB), the four-day XPOSURE 2019 featured 1,112 works by 357 photographers from around the world. It also offered amateurs, professionals and hobbyists in the region a unique opportunity to hear and network with 53 leading names in the industry through a variety of technical workshops, and focus group engagements as well as seminars. The festival attracted 15,000 visitors over the 4-day event.