March 13, 2014
Yao Ming is perhaps the most famous athlete in China. He towered over defenders at 7'6" during his playing days, and now he hopes he can emulate that dominance off the court. That's because Yao has become one of the most outspoken advocates against the illegal Ivory trade.
On March 4, Yao, now a member of China's parliament, delivered a petition to the government with the objective of completely banning the ivory trade. When Yao addressed the press, he promoted his two-part solution. "The first thing is to pass a law making it clear that trading in ivory and ivory products is illegal," said Yao. "The second is to make every consumer understand that purchasing ivory encourages poaching and that when you buy a piece of ivory it's like buying a bullet."
China imports more trafficked ivory than any other country in the world. It has long been a status symbol, and rising incomes throughout the country have enhanced demand. It is therefore even more important that a figure as prominent as Yao should speak out against its trade.
In 2012, Yao spent 12 days in Kenya and South Africa on a fact-finding mission for The End of Wild, a documentary aimed at curbing international ivory demand. Yao partnered with Save the Elephants and the African Wildlife Foundation to produce the film which features powerful and grotesque images of the ivory trade.
After his trip to Africa, Yao wrote an article for The Guardian about his experience, proclaiming that, "an ivory carving is far removed from the sad carcass of a poached elephant, but China must make this connection."
During his time in the NBA, Yao was a formidable presence for the Houston Rockets while also having an immense impact on the growth of basketball in China. Nevertheless, Yao's impact on basketball could be dwarfed by his potential impact on hundreds of thousands of rhinos and elephants.
--Image courtesy of iStockphoto/KreangchaiRungfamai
Callum Beals is an editorial intern at Sierra. He recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz where he studied history and literature. He enjoys hiking, camping, and waking up at ungodly hours to watch soccer games.