▲ A Korea tigress with her cub. Provided by Wikimedia Commons.
The natural world is a place of wonders, and among those wonders is the panthera tigris altaica and panthera pardus orientalis, better known as the Korea tiger and Korea leopard, respectively. Once a denizen of the Korean peninsula, these majestic animals still dwell in the northernmost regions of China and the eastern regions of Russia. They are, however, in danger of completely disappearing from the face of the Earth; Han Jeong Hee, (‘96, Biology) the Secretary General of the Korea Tiger & Leopard Conservation Fund (KTLCF), is one of the leading conservationists who strives to keep both species alive and preserve the diversity that makes planet Earth what it is.
What led you to become interested in conservation biology?
Well, I have always been interested in the oppressed. Women, for one, and the sexual minority. I thought animals could also be counted as part of the oppressed, since the actions of us humans often affect them in a negative way and they have much fewer ways to make their voices heard. I have always wanted to help them in any way I could, and conservation biology was the answer.
Were you thinking o f becoming a conservation biologist back when you attended Korea University (KU)?
Not exactly. Conservation biology was a pretty minor subject back then, overshadowed by other subjects like molecular biology. I did, however, discover my love for nature here, thanks to an insect photography club I joined. Now, joining that club did not directly lead me to daydream about being a conservation biologist, but it helped me see which path I wanted to take in the wide field of biology. I stayed in the United Kingdom (UK) as an exchange student, where I had a lot of friends who were already into conservation biology. I think I was influenced by them quite a bit.
What sort of work did you do before entering KTLCF?
I worked at Greenpeace for a while, where I spent six months translating documents and reports. I helped with the research too, of course! Next came the position of campaigner, which I served in for four years. I was an activist of sorts, I suppose. My role was setting up specific goals for our campaigns. Persuading the fishing industry not to sweep tons of sea creatures into their nets at once and employ different methods that will not hurt the ecosystem so much, for example. After the goals were set, I drew up plans to realize them and oversaw them as well. Our plans for the fishing industry project involved lobbying at international conferences and contacting corporations to make our case. We had our share of public actions, too; Dongwon scored worst in environmental sustainability rankings once, so we made them a fishbone-shaped trophy for Worst Tuna Can and put it outside their building.
What work do you do at KTLCF now? What kind of efforts does KTLCF make?
KTLCF is not a huge organization, so the secretary general has to take care of general affairs! I have a number of tasks to handle; I come up with strategies to raise awareness about the plight of Korea tigers and leopards. The process often involves a lot of public relations business, such as contacting media and promoting our fund. I plan events to garner more interest towards our cause, and seek out other organizations to work together with. As you could probably guess, a lot of KTLCF’s efforts involve getting the public to open their eyes and see the trouble our felines are in; one of those efforts is the annual Draw-a-Tiger contest. We also check up on the well-being of the tigers and leopards, by collaborating with conservation organizations up north in Russia.
▲ Secretary General Han Jeong Hee of KTLCF. Photographed by Kim Ji Won.
Can you tell us about your feelings toward your job?
I feel what I do is truly worthwhile whenever I feel that am making a difference in people’s perceptions. Once, a parent contacted me. She had found out about the Draw-a-Tiger contest, and her child signed up for it. To draw a Korea tiger well, one should first know something about Korea tigers, so that led to some research about the animals. That in turn led the parent and child to discover both our fund and the circumstances that led to its creation. It is very important to instill awareness in children—once they open their eyes, the stage is set for the adults to learn more the trouble our animals face and do something to change it. My job is waking people up and spreading the word to start a change. Someone has to do it, and I am more than happy to volunteer.
Why are preserving Korea tigers and leopards important, besides keeping biological diversity intact?
I am sure you have heard about wild boar sightings around Korea; the boars are on a rampage because there are no predators to control the population. Korea tigers are one of the few we had, but they have been driven away from their natural homes since the Chosun dynasty and now do not even have a home within Korea. We need Korea tigers and leopards back here because they have their own places in the ecosystem that no one can replace.
Is there anything you would like to say to the students of KU?
First off, remember that you, as students of KU, have been blessed with many opportunities. Sadly, the same things you enjoy are hopelessly out of reach for some others—many others, in fact. Stop to look around you from time to time. You do not have to make a huge gesture of benevolence. Just have compassion for them, and help them if you can. Another thing? Find what you truly want to do, but for this you need to experience many things. Do not hesitate to go off looking for new adventures. I had a bad accident while I was in the UK, you know—I used to be a very timid person before, but after that, I realized that you have no idea when the end will come, that you should not hold yourself back because there may never be another chance to do what you want.