Today, the 7'6" Chinese phenom has placed his humongous palms on efforts toward the saving of a beast of a different kind: the giants of Africa. Known for its great savannas and majestic animals, Africa has long been troubled by poachers, who are after elephant ivory and rhino horns. Every year, 25,000 African elephants and more than 700 rhinos are killed in South Africa to fuel the black market. The illegal goods are funneled to China and Vietnam where considerable demand remains.
You can watch the trailer here.
This is where Yao comes in.
Finding life after basketball, the gentle giant has become a wildlife advocate for the nature conservation organization, WildAid. Together, Yao and WildAid aim to push conservation efforts forward and to eventually put a stop to the ecologically devastating cycle with a Discovery Channel documentary called Saving Africa's Giants With Yao Ming, premiering on Saturday, November 22, at 6 p.m.
The program follows Yao as he travels to Kenya, a natural habitat of African elephants, to see how the killings have affected the very lives of the natives. In the one-hour show, he also makes a stop at the Kariega Game Reserve, located at South Africa's East Cape, to experience the struggle and pain of orphaned rhinos.
The gist: The killings are merciless and threaten the natural ecosystem. They have to be stopped, and they want us to listen. Says Yao: "When our message is spread by those who see this documentary, people can join us and hopefully wipe out this black market."
Now, hear more from the big man with the big heart himself, Yao Ming, in our interview below!
FHM: From basketball, what urged you to devote your time and attention to the protection of Africa’s giants?
Yao: This has nothing to do with basketball. It’s more of a lifestyle choice and a call to reach more people to join us in this campaign to protect the wild animals in Africa. Many of you already know the mass number of elephants and rhinos being poached here in Africa because of the ivory or the rhino horn. We all know that's because people are buying these products in the market. We'll try to show this to as many people as we can to persuade them, to convince them to stop buying that.
Without the market generating the money, there’s no reason for poachers back there to hurt those animals.
Can you tell us how you felt when you first saw these slaughtered elephants and rhinos on your trip to Africa?
It was definitely a very sad image and also a very sad experience to have. Even hearing it asked right now, all of my memories flash back inside of me, makes me feel sad about it. Honestly, after that, everytime I see ivory or a horn, either from pictures or videos or actual items, it saddens me because I know there’s a body, a carcass, a life lost in Africa.
Are any of your fellow former players, or maybe even the NBA itself, a part of this this cause
Oh, yes. We have a lot of NBA players joining us, either retired players or still active players, such as Dikembe Mutombo, Joakim Noah, Dwayne Wade, and Jeremy Lin–they shot a public service awareness video to persuade people to stop buying stuff.
What are the messages you want to leave on people’s minds upon viewing the show?
Since we launched this documentary, people now ask us, “What is the story over there?” and “What can we do for these animals?” We always try to say, “Help us spread the message,” “Tell your friends, tell all the people you know”– let as many people know as possible. Of course, there’s “Stop buying those products," which is the key message for us. We can kill the market there and stop the poachers from going back there.
China, however, has long been a market for these elephant and rhino products. In fact, it’s part of your country's culture. How long do you think will it take to change that?
I think the timing is good right now. Like you said, collecting ivory and rhino horns is a big tradition for us, for Chinese people. It's true. To collect ivory, like how some people do with luxury cars today, is kind of like an identifier for powerful people.
But today, I think people are ready to change that. Their attitude has changed. A lot of people I know in China care about conservation more, and also environment protection or some other philanthropy. They’re more concerned about doing something good for society instead of their personal identity. I think the attitude has already been changed so that's why now is very good time to launch this.
On a final note, how difficult was it for you to be involved in a totally different cause just a few years after leaving basketball?
The transition was not that hard because my career was ended by an injury. There was not much of a choice there. And I was really looking forward to stepping into my new era, which is either joining the cause for conservation or to go back to college to finish my education. But I have a lot more things to do, and I’m looking forward to it.
To play a part in saving elephants and rhinos from possible extinction, make a donation or sign the pledge against purchasing or consuming products made from endangered species at www.DiscoveryChannelAsia.com! SAVING AFRICA’S GIANTS WITH YAO MING premieres on Saturday, November 22 at 6:00 p.m. Encores will be shown on Sunday, November 23, at 10:00 p.m. and Monday, November 24, at 2:00 p.m.