Review: Life On Planet WWF – From Archbishops To Belly Dancers


  • Books
  • Wednesday, 30 Mar 2016

Photo: WWF

Life On Planet WWF – From Archbishops To Belly Dancers

Author: C.Y. CHONG

Publisher: Matador, UK

Lost in the confusing hallways of a large and very complicated residence, C.Y. Chong is desperate to find a toilet. He opens a door at random and finds himself in what looks like a lived-in bedroom. A door on the far side next to the bed seems to hold the promise of a bathroom, but Chong is nervous of making a social blunder.

“What if the owner comes back and finds me doing my business?” he worries. But the situation has become critical. He moves fast to find relief, all the while conjuring up fears of what will happen if the Her Majesty the Queen walks in? The Queen didn’t walk in, but it wasn’t such a crazy idea. Chong was in Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth’s London residence.

Five minutes earlier, Chong and his colleagues had been personally instructed by His Royal Highness Prince Philip to turn up for a meeting in exactly 15 minutes. HRH insisted on punctuality. He had given the group precise directions through the corridors, but Chong’s urgent business had caused him to lose both the group and his way. He made it, eventually.

What was he doing wandering around Buckingham Palace? He was attending a World Wildlife Fund meeting in the days when Prince Philip was its international president.

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Life On Planet WWF is a unique autobiography. It consists of a collection of very short stories that recount dozens of unexpected, bizarre and amusing experiences, with anecdotes about things that happened to Chong in his 20-plus years as finance director of the World Wide Fund for Nature, the global conservation organisation.

Chong got the job after asking to be fired from his former employment as senior finance manager at what was then the second largest computer manufacturer in the world. He had decided to take his severance pay and seek greener pastures. Just how green, he was soon to find out. At the beginning, he clearly did not realise just what a short step it was from a Swiss office to a tropical rainforest. He had settled in Switzerland for several years and wanted to stay on, but he also wanted to find a job that offered something different from his previous employment. He got his wish in ways that he could never have anticipated.

His story begins on a beautiful summer’s day. He was cruising the roads near the waters of Lake Geneva in his “petrol-guzzling Jaguar” when he noticed an ugly, grey, box-shaped building, with two flags flapping in the wind in front of it. One of those flags had the familiar WWF Panda on it. It piqued Chong’s curiosity and he wrote to WWF to see if there might be a job opening for him. One thing led to another, and before long, he found himself on a Monday morning parking his politically incorrect Jag by the ugly grey building and making his way to a horrible little cubicle that was to be his office as WWF’s new finance manager.

After three months, he was promoted to finance director, in which position he had a lot of what he calls “non-financial experiences”.

The author, C.Y. Chong. Photo: www.lifeonplanetwwf.com
The author, C.Y. Chong. Photo: www.lifeonplanetwwf.com

Chong’s stories range from resisting a shakedown by corrupt immigration officers in an unnamed African country, to pointedly being handed a Mont Blanc pen by United Nations director-general Kofi Annan as a silent command to take notes in a meeting with Chinese officials in Beijing. Along the way, he meets wildlife that ranges from intelligent forest ants teaching their young how to follow the line of march, to magnificent forest elephants gathering at a waterhole.

Chong’s recollections are as varied as they are entertaining. He travels the world to help WWF’s national offices with their finances, and he cruises high society to raise the funds for conservation. He meets personalities that range from Britain’s Sir David Attenborough – who has brought nature into millions of people’s lives through television – to New Zealand’s Sir Edmund Hillary who, with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, was the first to conquer Mount Everest in 1953. Chong also meets beggars and witchdoctors, and more European royalty than most of us have ever heard of. All in a good cause: to save the Earth as a living planet.


Datuk Dr Mikaail Kavanagh worked for WWF-Malaysia for 26 years, including 16 as the CEO, having started as a volunteer in Sarawak. After retiring from WWF-Malaysia, he spent a further six years as Special Advisor to the tri-national Heart of Borneo programme on behalf of WWF International. He is currently active in gasifying waste biomass to produce green energy and valuable biochar, as well as advising governments and corporations on biodiversity issues.

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