Celebrities, conservationists, political officials and the media recently gathered for a special premiere screening of “The End of the Wild,” a new documentary that follows basketball legend and committed conservationist Yao Ming on a fact-finding mission into the heart of Africa’s wildlife conservation crisis.
Both Yao Ming and Peter Knights of WildAid (who accompanied Yao on his 12-day trip through Kenya and South Africa) addressed the media and were joined by representatives from CCTV, which is airing “The End of the Wild,” and CITIC Publishing Group, which is releasing the film’s companion book, “Journey in Africa.”
Yao visited Kenya and South Africa in August of 2012 to learn about the poaching crisis and witness the dramatic toll that poaching is taking not only on Africa’s endangered elephant and rhinoceros populations, but also on the human communities that coexist with them. “End of the Wild” follows Yao as he meets wild elephants and rhinos before encountering the butchered bodies of five poached elephants in Kenya and a poached rhino in South Africa. In Nairobi, Kenya, Yao tours the “ivory room,” an underground vault filled with thousands of confiscated elephant tusks and other wildlife remains. He also visits local school children, whose education is funded by revenue from wildlife tourism, and meets with conservationists and government officials working to protect these endangered species.
“The End of the Wild” aired in two parts on CCTV-9 on August 11 at 9:00 p.m. (21:00 CST) and August 17 at 10:00 p.m. (22:00 CST). Part one focuses on elephants and the ivory trade; part two shines a light on the recent explosion of rhino poaching.
A BIG STEP IN THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST IVORY AND RHINO HORN
In April 2013, Yao launched the “Say No to Ivory” and the “Say No to Rhino Horn” campaign with WildAid, the African Wildlife Foundation, and Save the Elephants. He has been a leader in the effort to reduce demand for ivory and rhino horn, and has been featured in television ads and billboards. WildAid’s elephant ivory public awareness messages have aired 7,697 times on over 25 television channels in 2013 amounting to US$15 million in-kind broadcast value. This is the amount certified by the media monitoring firm CTR and does not include several major media outlets and could account for only 50% of the actual total broadcast value.
In March 2014, Yao delivered a petition during the opening session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) asking China’s government to ban sales of ivory. The “End of the Wild” documentary is yet another big step in Yao Ming and WildAid’s effort to save endangered species by encouraging the public to stop buying wildlife products. In the documentary Yao clearly states his intent, “I believe what people will see in those pictures, [they] will remember it. That’s what we’re here for: film this, bring it back home … and show everybody the reality.”
“With this film, Yao is helping to spread the word about the ecological and human costs of the illegal wildlife trade,” explains Peter Knights, Executive Director of WildAid. “We hope that with more public awareness and support, that China will become a true global leader in conservation and help save elephants and rhinos.”
Yao previously helped to reduce China’s demand for shark fin through his campaign with WildAid. He appeared in public service messages that have reached hundreds of millions of consumers throughout China on broadcast and satellite television, LCD screens on trains and in subway and railway stations, airports, airline in-flight entertainment, shopping malls, banks, taxis, and universities and hospitals. Yao’s messages helped change public opinion and encouraged President Xi’s administration to ban shark fin from state banquets. A 2013 survey revealed that 85% of respondents in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chengdu had stopped eating shark fin soup within the last three years. Sixty-five percent of those who quit shark fin cited public awareness campaigns as a reason.
An estimated 33,000 elephants are killed each year for their tusks, and 95% of the world’s rhinos have been lost over the past 40 years. Growing demand in China and Southeast Asia is driving sharp increases in poaching. In China, ivory is prized as a status symbol by the nation’s growing affluent and middle classes, and the country’s legal market perpetuates demand and provides a laundering mechanism for illegal, poached ivory from Africa. Rhino horn is highly sought after for purported health benefits. In Vietnam, rhino horn has a reputation as a cancer treatment and a hangover cure regardless of the fact that the horn is composed of keratin (the same substance as human hair and fingernails).