Our very own ‘jungle doctor’ has just released a book and is on a mission to protect the world’s threatened wildlife, while helping our own fragile ecosystem too.
On a tiny speck of land in the South Pacific, 11-year-old Chloe Buiting (née Breakwell, TC 2010) marvelled at the abundant and unspoilt natural beauty of her home. Lord Howe Island has been described by David Attenborough as ‘so extraordinary it is almost unbelievable’, and after spending two years there as a child, Chloe vowed she would do whatever she could to conserve the animals and environment of such special places.
Many years later, a meeting with Professor Ken Hinchcliff – the Warden of Trinity College and then Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Melbourne – set her on the path to becoming a veterinarian and conservationist. ‘He really made time for me and answered all my questions,’ she says. ‘I’m forever grateful.’ It was just a taste of the mentorship and camaraderie she would later cherish during her time at Trinity. ‘I was inspired by my fellow students. All of us had big aspirations, and even though we were on different paths, we shared ideas and goals.’
Vet school saw Chloe posted in wildlife hospitals around Australia and New Zealand before she ventured further afield; in Africa, learning skills such as darting animals from helicopters and transporting them safely. The goal was to protect them from poaching, trafficking and habitat loss. However, Chloe recognised there were challenges. ‘I suspected local Masai communities had a lot of people like me telling them how important it was to coexist with animals rather than kill or poach them, but many of them hadn’t had the privilege of actually seeing them. I set up student safaris, taking students from remote rural schools into a national park to hopefully form a connection with the animals. I believe [the students] should be afforded the same opportunities we are, since they’re the ones who are ultimately going to be responsible for ongoing conservation.’
Chloe’s energy and passion is evident as she rattles off project after project. Additional to her wildlife work is her involvement with Loop Abroad, in which she leads vet students from around the world to see wildlife conservation in action. ‘I did a few of these trips myself as an undergrad and they had a lasting impact on me. It’s a privilege to meet students in the early stages of their career and talk to them about what their path might look like, what their dreams and aspirations are, and to show them why I believe conservation is so important.’
On this, she adds: ‘We should all be focused on conservation because we are ultimately dependent on the health of the ecosystem. Species are going extinct at 1000 times the natural extinction rate and this really impacts the fragile web. If one element of the chain collapses, others are left far more vulnerable. Climate change, habitat destruction and the illegal wildlife trade are all accelerating the process.’
Chloe has put her money where her mouth is, setting up a scholarship to help wildlife organisations in need. ‘A small amount of money can go a long way in third world countries which are trying to do their best with limited resources.’
For now, she’s based on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, working to rehabilitate wildlife injured in the bushfires while spreading her conservation message via her website jungledoctor.org and Instagram account @jungle_doctor. In May 2021, her book, The jungle doctor, was published (available to purchase here).
‘Support ecotourism, become an informed shopper, donate to organisations on the frontline, use your own platform to spread the message,’ she urges. ‘It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from or how old you are, when it comes to conservation, you can make a difference.’
By Laura Waters