Yao Ming Defends Orphaned Baby Elephants
Yao Ming is no stranger to giant competition. But the seven-foot-six athlete has taken up a mission more daunting than guarding Shaquille O’Neal on the court: saving orphaned baby elephants.
The former Houston Rockets center has teamed up with the African Wildlife Foundation, WildAid, and Save the Elephants to launch an awareness campaign targeting the ivory market in Asia.
It’s a difficult task: According to a report released last month by wildlife conservation group Born Free, ivory poaching and trafficking is at its highest level in 25 years. Between 2009 and June 2014, criminal networks in Africa trafficked 170 tons of ivory, an amount produced by as many as 229,729 pachyderms.
China’s rising middle class has been driving the demand. One pound of ivory fetches about $1,300 in the country.
“Spending time with elephants, you soon see how protective mothers and families are of their babies. But most of these orphaned elephants lost their mothers or even their entire families to ivory poachers,” says Yao in a PSA for the campaign. “When the buying stops, the killing can too.”
The documentary The End of the Wild also screened in China in August as part of the project. The film followed Yao as he travelled to Kenya and South Africa in 2012 to learn about the crisis. There he saw bodies of poached elephants and visited a vault filled with confiscated tusks.
“Before that, it was more of a number for me—how many tons of ivory, how much money comes out of this business. Sometimes the number is cold,” said Yao, according to The Washington Post. “After you visit Africa, it is very unique. I felt that I built some kind of special connection with the animals.”
Yao previously worked with WildAid in a national campaign to reduce shark fin consumption in China. It worked: A 2013 survey found that 85 percent of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chengdu residents had quit shark fin soup. According to WildAid, 65 percent of them attributed their decision to public awareness campaigns. With Yao’s help, the organization is hoping for similar results for the welfare of the imperiled pachyderms.