Yao Ming Says No to Ivory and Rhino Horn

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Surveys find Chinese public highly supportive of wildlife protection but unaware of African poaching crises

BEIJING, China, April 16, 2013 -- Today, former NBA star and Chinese icon, Yao Ming, launched a major public awareness campaign targeting consumption of ivory and rhino horn in China in partnership with WildAid, Save the Elephants, African Wildlife Foundation, and the Yao Ming Foundation.

 > Watch Yao Ming's PSA on Youtube

In August 2012, Yao spent 12 days on a fact-finding mission in Kenya and South Africa filming a documentary to be aired in partnership with NHNZ later this year. Yao met wild elephants before encountering the bodies of five poached elephants in Kenya and a poached rhino in South Africa. He also visited local school children, whose education is funded through wildlife tourism revenue, and conservationists and government officials working to protect elephants and rhinos. Footage and stills from his trip were released together with a series of public service announcements informing consumers, "When the buying stops, the killing can too." WildAid thanks Ol Pejeta Conservancy and Virgin Atlantic for their support of Yao's Africa trip.

Poaching for ivory kills more than 25,000 elephants annually and has reached levels only seen before the 1989 international trade ban. In 2012, 668 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone. These are precipitous increases from just a few years ago and, if not stemmed, could lead to the extinction of African rhinos and elephants in our lifetime.   

A survey conducted in November of 2012 in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou by the Chinese research company, HorizonKey, found that:

More than half of the nearly 1,000 participants (over 50%) do not think elephant poaching is common;
34%, or one in three respondents, believe ivory is obtained from natural elephant mortality;
Only 33% of all participants believe elephants are poached for their tusks; and
94% of residents agree the “Chinese government should impose a ban on the ivory trade.”

Although the international trade in ivory is banned, a one-off sale in 2008 perpetuated a legal market for ivory in China and Japan. Reports show widespread abuse of the system to launder illegal ivory in China, and seizure and intelligence reports indicate China is the world’s largest market for ivory.

Meanwhile, a similar survey conducted by HorzionKey in the same three major Chinese cities on rhino horn perceptions found that:

66% of all participants, that is two out of every three respondents, are not aware that rhino horn comes from poached rhinos;
Nearly 50% believed rhino horn can be legally purchased from official stores; and
95% of residents agree the “Chinese government should take stricter action to prevent use of rhino horns.”

Traditional Chinese Medicine officially removed rhino horn from the pharmacopeia in China in 1993. These surveys, however, discovered that consumers are now buying rhino horn due to belief in its aphrodisiac properties and fever reducing capabilities. Rhino horn is also being used as a perceived investment and as an ornament or carving.

Despite having only one fifteenth of China’s population, Vietnam is now believed to be an even larger market for rhino horn. Similar public awareness campaigns are planned for Vietnam later in 2013.

The attitudinal ivory and rhino horn surveys highlight the importance of Yao’s involvement in this campaign and the urgent need for him to continue to positively influence his fellow countrymen.

Kenyan researcher David Daballen, of Save the Elephants, stated, "Because of the demand for ivory, poaching has erupted all over Africa leading to the slaughter of tens of thousands of elephants each year.  These elephants are not only a part of our world, they are a part of our heritage and our family.  We need the Chinese peoples’ help to save our elephants by saying no to ivory.”

Added Dr. Philip Muruthi, Senior Director of conservation science for African Wildlife Foundation, "Rhinos are not threatened by loss of habitat, they are threatened by poaching for their horns for Asian markets. African Wildlife Foundation has been rapidly investing in key target landscapes across Africa to ensure that critical rhino populations are protected, through measures such as aerial surveillance, rapid-response teams, and more and better-equipped boots on the ground.”

WildAid’s Executive Director, Peter Knights, stated, "Elephants and rhinos are conservation flagships, national icons, goodwill ambassadors, and generate hundreds of millions of tourist dollars for African economies funding education and development; they are the pandas of Africa. We have seen illegal markets collapse in the face of strong clear laws, enforcement efforts, and consumer awareness campaigns in the past. By strongly implementing these proven measures, China could become a world leader in wildlife conservation and help save elephants and rhinos.”

Yao's previous WildAid campaign with shark fin, backed extensively by Chinese media, is credited with a reduction of 50 - 70% in consumption of shark fin in China in 2012 according to shark fin traders, media, and Hong Kong import statistics. Yao’s campaign contributed to a Chinese government decision to remove shark fin soup from all state banquets over the next three years.

Yao stated, ”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.”

Footage, stills, and PSA’s are available from Zach Weismann, +1 214-636-7664, weismann@wildaid.org


WildAid - Peter Knights: +1 415-254-3174, May May Ziwen: +86-1500-110-7500

African Wildlife Foundation - Mayu Mishina: +1 202-939-3324, John Butler: +1 202-361-8344

Save The Elephants - Frank Pope: +254-720-441-178


About WildAid:

WildAid is the only organization to focus on reducing the demand for wildlife products with the strong and simple message: when the buying stops, the killing can too.  WildAid works with Asian and Western celebrities and business leaders to dissuade people from purchasing wildlife products via public service announcements and educational initiatives, reaching up to one billion people per week in China alone. For more information: www.wildaid.org.

About the Yao Ming Foundation:

The Yao Ming Foundation was established in June of 2008, by international NBA Star Yao Ming, in response to the devastating 8.0 earthquake in Sichuan Province, China on May 12, 2008.  More than 8,000 schoolrooms and 185 schools were destroyed during the earthquake. The Yao Ming Foundation has committed to rebuilding five schools in the earthquake region. The Yao Ming Foundation also supports additional educational opportunities in the US and China. In November 2011, Yao Ming announced the establishment of his new Napa Valley wine company: Yao Family Wines. The company released its inaugural wine under the brand name Yao Ming®. Yao Family Wines appointed Pernod Ricard (China) as its sole and exclusive importer and distributor of the Yao Ming® wines in mainland China.

About Save the Elephants:

Save the Elephants (STE) aims to secure a future for elephants in a rapidly changing world. Pioneers in cutting-edge science, their research provides vital insights into elephant behavior, intelligence, and long-distance movement. Given the current crisis, STE has now marshaled its resources to combat elephant poaching, prevent ivory trafficking at all levels, and bring to the attention of ivory consumers the catastrophic impact of their purchases.

About African Wildlife Foundation:

African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) together with the people of Africa, works to ensure the wildlife and wild lands of Africa will endure forever. Founded in 1961, AWF is a leading conservation organization focused solely on the African continent. Since its inception, AWF has protected endangered species and land, promoted conservation enterprises that benefit local African communities, and trained hundreds of African nationals in conservation—all to ensure the survival of Africa’s unparalleled wildlife heritage. AWF is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Kenya and registered as a 501(c)(3) in the United States.


Download Dr. Philip Muruthi’s remarks​

Download the Rhino Horn Demand report in English and Chinese

Download the Ivory Demand in China report in English and Chinese 

Editor’s Notes:

1) A global ivory trade ban, enacted in 1989, resulted in elephant populations increasing steadily until the dramatic resurgence of poaching in 2008.

2) According to Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants, “The new wave of killing of elephants in Africa is in many ways graver than the crisis of the 1970s and 80s. Firstly there are fewer elephants, and secondly the demand for ivory is far higher. UNEP et al (2013) reports CITES results that document a tripling in both poaching levels and the number of large-scale seizures of ivory intended for Asia over the last 5 years.”

3) Poor regulation of government stockpiles in Africa has led to corruption as new ivory entered domestic markets as “pre-convention” or “one-off sales” ivory. Increased demand from a stimulated growing class of wealthy Chinese consumers has helped fuel these domestic markets.

4) Over the last few years, tens of thousands of African elephants have been slaughtered to feed ivory markets in Asia. In 2011, 25,000 elephants alone were killed for their ivory.

5) The Chinese government has banned all online ivory trade. However, according to IFAW, the total number of ivory items auctioned on record in mainland China in 2011 has more than doubled from a year ago and total sale volume increased by 170% since 2010.

6) The wholesale price of ivory has tripled since 2006.

7) Trade in rhino horn is also under a global international ban, but the illegal poaching of rhinos has increased dramatically in the past few years.

8) Only about 20,000 African white rhinos and 5,000 African black rhinos now exist in Africa. While these numbers are up from two decades ago, thanks to a concerted effort on the part of African governments and conservation organizations, the African rhino is again under threat of extinction because of demand for rhino horn.

9) In 2011, in fact, the Western black rhino was declared extinct. The Northern white rhino, native to Central Africa, may also be extinct in the wild.

10) Illegal wildlife trafficking, especially of ivory and rhino horn, is closely connected to other terrorist activities globally, such as illegal arms and human trafficking. The demand for rhino horn and ivory, and subsequent criminal activities surrounding the poaching of these wildlife parts, have helped fueled civil conflict and destabilized economies in Africa.

11) Yao Ming has led the world’s largest conservation awareness program working with WildAid to educate the public in China on the threats to wildlife, with the message, “when the buying stops, the killing can too.”

12) Yao, together with dozens of Chinese and international celebrities, has helped reached hundreds of millions of Chinese supported by hundreds of millions of dollars of donated media placement. 

13) WildAid’s global shark campaign has been highly successful. In July of 2012, the Chinese government announced it would remove shark fin soup from the menus of government banquets over the next three years.

14) In January of 2013, The South China Morning Post reported that the Hong Kong Shark Fin Trade Merchants Association chairman found, “The whole industry has recorded a [sales] decrease of 50 per cent on last year. [The decline] is mainly due to omnipresent advocacy by green groups.” This decline is verified by data from the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department, which reports that shark fin imports have been reduced from 10,292 tonnes in 2011 to 3,087 tonnes in November last year. 

15) Surveys of 963 people were conducted in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou in November 2012 by the Chinese research company HorizonKey. In-depth interviews with select focus group members were conducted to learn more about pre-existing attitudes, knowledge, and perceptions on ivory and rhino horn trades.  The focus group participants included media professionals, government officials of deputy department director level and above, customs officials responsible for law enforcement and legal action, and a high-income group with annual household income above 2 million RMB.