By Elizabeth Willoughby on
With elephant and rhinoceros poaching in Kenya on the rise, basketball star Yao Ming decided not to focus his energies on supporting conservationists to defeat poaching. Instead, he’s bringing the message to the buyers – the rising wealthy in China.
Ming says that after talking with WildAid conservationists and Chinese officials, he sees that there is governmental commitment to resolve the problem, however, laws will only go so far. “We need a drastic increase in awareness to reduce markets,” he says.
Besides sculpting the ivory into art pieces, tusks are used in traditional Asian medicine for a variety of ailments, all completely bogus according to scientific study. The dwindling numbers of elephants and rhinoceros, caused by cartels dealing in the illegal trade, destabilizes populations – calves die without mothers and breeding prospects are lost. The environment is also negatively affected since grasslands become less maintained, fire hazards increase, and soil fertilization and seed dispersal diminishes.
Following his “When the buying stops, the killing can too” PSA, Ming travelled to Africa with WildAid to record the poaching crisis.
“China’s economic boom has lead to greater buying power with few potential consumers exposed to the publicity surrounding the 1989 ban,” says Ming. "This is why we really need to document what’s happening here in Africa, on the ground. I firmly believe that Chinese consumers will have a change of heart once we understand the consequences, but it hasn’t been covered widely enough in the media.
“If you see something openly on sale, you assume it is legal. An ivory carving is thousands of miles removed from the sad carcass of a poached elephant, but we need to make that connection. [Seeing five poached elephants in close proximity to each other] was a harrowing experience I never want to repeat, but something that everyone thinking of buying ivory should see – the wastefulness of these animals cruelly slaughtered just so a small part of them could be used. Would anyone buy ivory if they had witnessed this?”
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