Actor Li Bingbing on Elephant Poaching: Stop the Buying; Stop the Dying; Say No to Ivory

On World Wildlife Day, the Chinese star stands up for elephants in a new short documentary.
Mar 3, 2014·
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

The matriarch of the elephant herd was dead. And though she knew it would be a harrowing sight, actor Li Bingbing had to see for herself. It was May 2013, and Li, a U.N. goodwill ambassador, was in Kenya to raise awareness about wildlife poaching and trafficking. The Transformers 4: Age of Extinction star mustered the resolve, navigated a patch of gnarled bushes, and came face-to-face with a 40-year-old female whose carcass lay in the shade of a small tree. “She was speared, and this is where she chose to lay down and die,” a guide tells Li as she stares at the cadaver in shock, tears streaming down her cheeks. After the elephant’s death, the guide explains, poachers removed “her whole face” to harvest her ivory tusks.

This scene is the most sobering moment of a new six-minute documentary, On Elephant and Ivory, released today for World Wildlife Day. The United Nations-declared day is an occasion both to celebrate the planet’s wild creatures and to raise awareness that they are being poached and trafficked at prodigious rates.

“Demand for illegal wildlife products, like ivory and rhino horn, is literally threatening these iconic species with extinction,” said Li in a statement. “The existence of these animals in the wild is no longer secure, but together we can stop it.”

Easier said than done; these are end times for countless endangered species, particularly elephants. With poachers now slaughtering 35,000 pachyderms annually—that’s one every 15 minutes—the species’ numbers have plummeted by 75 percent since 1980. The poaching spike is attributed to exponential demand in China’s emerging middle class, which views ivory chopsticks, bookmarks, and other trinkets as status symbols.

After Li’s Kenya trip, she returned to China and starred in five “Say No to Ivory” PSAs. These went viral last spring on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, prompting a wave of anti-ivory sentiment.

Here’s hoping the same fate awaits her new video. Elephants may not forget, but humans are way too apt to lose interest in this urgent cause.