After gaining fame on the basketball court, Yao Ming put his celebrity status to work for conservation first as an advocate for sharks, urging people in Asian communities to stop consuming shark's fin soup. Now, Ming has focused from ocean to land, and has traveled to Kenya with WildAid to bring awareness to elephant and rhino poaching and the damage demand for their horns and tusks in Traditional Chinese Medicine have caused to the species.
From his blog: "Yao Ming travels to Africa for the first time to come face-to-face with some of the world’s most majestic species – the elephant and the rhino - and to document the poaching crisis these creatures are facing as a result of growing demand for rhino horn and ivory products."
Ming is working with WildAid, the same organization that he works with to promote conservation of sharks. Some of the stop-offs include Ol Pejeta, a private, non-profit wildlife sanctuary that is also the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa. But the demand for horns has put the animals even in this sanctuary at risk.
Ming notes on his blog that "last year alone, Ol Pejeta lost five of their 88 rhinos to poachers, which has been their greatest loss in twenty years."
The reality of poaching can hit hard when you see the effects first-hand, which is why Ming traveled to Kenya. However, even those viewing the photos can be struck by the sadness of the problem. In Namunyak, Northern Kenya, Ming came across the body of a poached elephant. "Since 2008, elephant poaching has been on the rise, according to Save the Elephants and the Kenya Wildlife Service."
Ming is also visiting the Elephant Watch Camp in Samburu National Reserve, which includes a visit with Save The Elephants and Elephant Watch staff, including David Daballen from Save the Elephants. While observing an elephant herd, Ming writes:
Suddenly I realize that between 3 medium-sized elephants is a tiny baby lying down resting, her sisters towering over her, positioned in a protective triangle. David knows every member of every family in the reserve, as well as their family history. Poachers killed this one’s mother two years ago, another member of the family had to then step into the role of matriarch at a very early age and the responsibility of leading the herd to food, water and out of harms way ways heavily upon her, she looks a bit depressed. At first I think the emotions are exaggerations, perhaps too much, but the more I learn and observe, the more I realize how much they share with humans – lifespan, adolescence, family bonds and emotions – as David explains this I can see it there in front of me by the way they are interacting with each other.
WildAid writes, "African elephants are currently found in 37 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Their numbers fell from 1.3 million in 1979 to less than 600,000 today, as a result of the ivory trade."
WildAid writes, "Today, only 5 rhino species remain and all are listed as endangered or vulnerable. 2/3 of the world's rhinos live in South Africa, the poaching epicenter of the world. In 2011, an estimated 450 rhinos were killed in South Africa - more than one a day, on average. If poaching continues at current rates, rhino populations will become unsustainable and even more species will be lost to extinction."
The expedition is teaching Ming quite a lot about elephants and rhinos, and their plight. Hopefully his millions of fans will learn as much as he travels through and records his adventures.
Many more photos and information can be found on Yao Ming's blog.