A GIANT STEP Forward For Endangered Elephants and Rhinos

As the goodwill ambassadors of the animal kingdom, elephants and rhinos have generated hundreds of millions of tourist dollars for African economies. Despite being instrumental to the funding of education and development in these nations, in recent years these magnificent creatures have been poached to near extinction. Rhino populations have declined an estimated 95% worldwide over the past 40 years, while tens of thousands of elephants are slaughtered every year. With the possible extinction of the African rhinos and elephants in our lifetime, the world is forced to take a sobering look at the ongoing battle with the illegal wildlife trade. 

Every year the illegal wildlife trade brings in an estimated $10 billion (USD) which has resulted in the drastic reduction of many wildlife populations around the world. Despite the implementation of international bans and the committed efforts of law enforcement, there has not been a resolve to the problem. Every year, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent protecting animals in the wild, but the massacre of these engaged creatures still continues.
In response to the lack of progress, an innovative non-profit was formed to address the root of the problem. Run by Peter Knights, WildAid is the only organization exclusively dedicated to reducing the demand for these products with the strong and simple message: when the buying stops, the killing can too.

Empowered by an unrivaled portfolio of celebrity ambassadors and a global network of media partners, WildAid strives to reduce demand of these products through strategic public awareness campaigns.

Assisting WildAid in its mission to protect the world’s most vulnerable animals is former NBA star, Yao Ming. In addition to being one of the most legendary basketball players of his time, Yao Ming is also a distinguished humanitarian with his own non-profit organization, The Yao Ming Foundation, which is notable for rebuilding schools destroyed in a devastating earthquake in China in 2008.

As China is one of the world’s largest markets for illegal wildlife products, Yao’s participation with WildAid is particularly powerful. Born in Shanghai, China, Yao has gained superstar status in his homeland due to the overwhelming popularity of the NBA. In fact, recent estimates of viewership by China Central Television suggest that China is home to a staggering 450 million basketball fans. By leveraging the popularity of Yao and the NBA, WildAid hopes to influence this important audience and educate them on the realities of the illegal wildlife trade.

Rallying alongside WildAid on their shark fin campaign, Yao’s involvement proved invaluable. According to the South China Morning Post, the Census and Statistics Department of Hong Kong reported that shark fin imports have been reduced by over 70% in 2012. In addition, Yao’s campaign contributed to a Chinese government’s decision to remove shark fin soup from all state banquets over the next three years.

Continuing his commitment to the animal kingdom, last year Yao journeyed on a 12 day fact-finding mission in Kenya and South Africa to film a documentary, and was able to meet wild elephants, and personally witnessed the discarded bodies of several poached elephants and a rhino.

In response to this visit, Yao and his foundation have launched a major public awareness campaign targeting the consumption of ivory and rhino horn in China in partnership with WildAid, Save the Elephants, and African Wildlife Foundation.

“Poaching threatens livelihoods, education, and development in parts of Africa due to the insecurity it brings and loss of tourism revenue. No one who sees the results firsthand, as I did, would buy ivory or rhino horn. I believe when people in China know what’s happening they will do the right thing and say no to these products,” said Yao.

Unfortunately, in the present state of affairs, thousands of elephants and hundreds of rhinos continue to be poached for their ivory and rhino horn in Chinese and Vietnamese markets. In addition to being used for jewelry, carvings, figurines, and souvenirs, consumers are buying rhino horn for its alleged aphrodisiac properties and fever reducing capabilities, especially in Vietnam, which is believed to be the largest market for rhino horn.

Despite the growing pandemic, a recent survey conducted last year in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou by Wild Aid and the Chinese research company, Horizon Key, found the average participant was completely misinformed about the illegal wildlife trade in China. 50 percent of the participants did not believe elephant poaching was common, one in three believe ivory is actually obtained from natural elephant mortality, and only 33 percent of all participants were aware elephants are poached for their tusks. Meanwhile, in a similar survey conducted by Horizon Key on rhino horn perceptions found that two out of every three respondents are not aware that rhino horn comes from poached rhinos, and nearly 50 percent believed rhino horn can be legally purchased from official stores.

The results of these surveys highlight the importance of Yao’s involvement in this campaign and the urgent need for him and other Asian celebrities to continue to positively influence their fellow countrymen. In a positive twist, it looks as though the overwhelming majority (95%) of participants
agreed the Chinese government should do more to impose the ban on the ivory trade.

Hoping to further leverage the popularity of the NBA in China, this year, Wild Aid has joined forces with the NBA’s global social responsibility program, NBA Cares, in a promotion that supports wildlife conservation in the U.S. and advocates against the illegal wildlife trade in China.

Fighting to reduce the consumption of wildlife products such as ivory and rhino horn, Wild Aid and NBA Cares have filmed two high-profile public service announcements featuring Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks star center, Tyson Chandler. Airing during the nationally televised basketball games on TNT and NBA TV in Canada and the United States, these public service announcements allow Wild Aid’s message to reach an entirely new global audience.

Peter Knights, Wild Aid’s Executive Director, said, “Increased affluence has led to rising demand for ivory in China and rhino horn in Vietnam, while the Chinese and Vietnamese publics are largely unaware of the crises. Given the NBA’s popularity around the world, we hope our partnership with NBA Cares can help reduce demand.”

Join WildAid in their mission to reduce the human threat to endangered wildlife. For more information, or to find out how you can help please visit www.wildaid.org/take-action