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Saving Africa's Giants: Yao Ming Speaks Out Against Illegal Ivory Trade

Nov 18, 2014 11:29 AM EST
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The illegal ivory trade continues to devastate wild elephant populations across Africa, and it seems now that people from all walks of life, including Chinese basketball superstar Yao Ming, are speaking up.

Hunted for their tusks as trophies or for the art of ivory carving and jewelry making, these gray giants are being killed by poachers in significant numbers. A recent study published in August shockingly revealed that more than 100,000 elephants were killed in the last three years alone. African elephants (Loxodonta africana) used to roam the vast African savannah in the millions in the 1930s and 40s, but with the demand for ivory skyrocketing and poachers rising to the occasion, that number has regrettably dwindled to just 300,000, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

If drastic measures are not taken to better conserve this iconic species, elephants may become extinct within the next 50 years.

And while the United States has started to take action, with the states of New Jersey and New York recently enacting stricter bans on ivory products as a means of culling this cruel trade, one of ivory's biggest purchasers has yet to do the same.

Despite a ban on exports of ivory products and controls on the domestic trade, China is still the largest market for illegal ivory, and prices for the product have tripled since 2010.

What's more astonishing is that a new report released just this month by the London-based nonprofit group Environmental Investigation Agency makes it seem that despite appearances, China has no intention of stamping out its illegal ivory market. According to the report, officials accompanying President Xi Jinping continued the illegal ivory trade during a trip to Tanzania, where they went on an ivory buying spree.

Given that China is still the world's largest importer of smuggled tusks, thus perpetuating elephant poaching throughout Africa, it's appropriate that one of their own is speaking out against this injustice.

Though Yao Ming, 33, is better known for dunking baskets than wildlife advocacy, he is nonetheless passionate about saving Africa's elephants, and is spreading awareness of poaching's cruelty through the new documentary Saving Africa's Giants with Yao Ming.

"Yao represents the next generation of conservationists. Having him as an ambassador is probably the best thing that could happen to wildlife," Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid, an organization that helped produce the program, said in a press release.

The documentary premieres Tuesday, November 18 at 10pm ET/PT on Animal Planet. The program, narrated by actor Edward Norton, comes in conjunction with the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting in New York and the organization's Commitment to Action to Save African Elephants. (Scroll to read on...)

(Photo : The David Sherldrick Wildlife Trust Nursery/Kristian Schmidt/WildAid)

During the one-hour special, viewers will see Ming, a native of Shanghai, China, travel to Kenya and visit a wildlife sanctuary for young elephants as well as a village of the ancient Samburu people, who depend on these creatures for survival.

But elephants aren't the only ones suffering from poaching. Rhinos, whose horns are used in traditional Asian medicines, are in decline as well, with all five species listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Ming continues his journey to South Africa's Kariega Game Reserve, where he learns of the struggles of orphaned rhinos.

"The huge price motivates poachers to persist. And if we buy ivory, it makes all of us killers as well," Yao said. "When our message is spread by those who see this documentary, people can join us and hopefully wipe out this black market."

To learn more, visit Animal Planet's website here, as well as Ming's blog

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