Yao Ming at London's Natural History Museum

For several years now, I’ve been working with WildAid to promote wildlife conservation and to reduce the demand for products derived from endangered or threatened species. It’s encouraging to see how many people have been supportive of the campaign to reduce pressure on the world’s sharks by saying “no” to shark fin soup. Since becoming involved in this campaign and learning more about the threats to wildlife, I wanted to go and see what’s happening to some of these animals myself and so I’m heading to Africa for the first time to learn about elephants and rhinos, two species in peril as a result of demand for ivory and rhino horn.

After finishing up the great experience of commentating on Olympic basketball for CCTV, my journey begins at London’s world-renowned Natural History Museum, a beautiful building dating back to 1873, with one of the world’s best collections of fossils and animal specimens – approximately 70 million items in total.  I wanted to learn more about our planet’s wildlife, both past and present, and better understand the root and the implications of extinction.


My guide is Dr. Samuel Turvey of the Zoological Society of London, who spent time studying in China.  We started in the Dinosaur Hall – beautiful and impressive. It would have been amazing to see one of these animals alive. Next to these guys, I’m feeling pretty small. Their extinction is thought to have been caused by an asteroid hitting the earth, causing a massive dust cloud – unavoidable and natural.

We saw the skeletons and exhibits of many animals that are now extinct. I learned that, in the grand scheme of things, extinction can be a natural process, a part of animals and plants adapting and changing – all part of evolution. But every so often there is a mass extinction event like the asteroid strike, which scientists believe wiped out the dinosaurs.

Many scientists believe we are now in the middle of the sixth great mass extinction, but for the first time, it’s being caused by an animal – human beings.

Now for many species facing extinction or near extinction, the threat is being caused by human activity – deforestation or the conversion of habitat to agricultural land, introducing foreign species that wipe out local species, and from over hunting.

Scientists estimate the current rate of extinction is perhaps 1,000 times greater than what would be considered natural. And the scale and pace of the changes is so extreme that animals don’t have time to adapt and evolve.

Seeing all these animals made me realize the amazing diversity of this incredible planet we inhabit and how shortsighted we are if we let more creatures disappear on our watch and by our hand.

The tour continued with wooly mammoths, giant ground sloths, and the Giant Moa bird. From what we know, it seems many large animals like this lived all over the world. Today, Dr. Turvey tells me that the only places you can really see animals of this stature and witness great wildlife diversity are in Africa and a few isolated parts of Asia. I learned that elephants and rhinos once thrived in China, but today we only have a few elephants and rhinos are long gone.

Yao Ming, Peter Knights and Dr. Samuel Turvey discuss mass extinction events

Both elephants and rhinos are being hunted at record levels for their ivory and horns.  I was really shocked to learn that even dead rhinos aren’t safe. Across Europe, organized criminals have been stealing rhino horns from museums to supply the Asian market for rhino horns. Now, museums are replacing the horns on exhibit with fake ones.  Sam told me, ironically, many of these museum horns may have been treated with preservatives so anyone trying to use these stolen horns may actually be poisoning themselves.

It’s sad that even our museums aren’t safe from the demand. If people are resorting to stealing rhino horns from museums to meet the demand, this doesn’t bode well for rhinos in the wild.

We’ll find out more in Africa.


9 responses

  1. Tamuza

    Great article, Mr. Yao, and thank you for shedding light on such worthy causes. Houston will always be proud to consider you an adopted son!

    August 10, 2012 at 10:55 am

  2. Great article! I started to follow Mr.Yao in 2001 when I started my residency. At that time he was a rookie in NBA. I was a rookie in medicine. I looked up to Yao because he always delivered under the pressure. Barkerly kissing donkey’s ass was the highlight of his career. Now he is retired, but he is still studying hard and trying to make himself a better person. That is admirable. I heard Yao is good with commentary, but I did not have a chance because I could not tolerate the torture of Chinese basketball games. Good work! Yao! Keep it up!

    August 10, 2012 at 5:57 pm

  3. Lila Fowler

    I cannot believe I am writing to Yao Ming! (am I really?!)

    But I would like to share this:

    Did you know that China and India are the world’s greatest consumers of palm oil? Palm oil is a seemingly “green” oil used in cooking (sometimes called “vegetable oil”); in most processed foods (chips, fried foods, cookies, cakes, desserts, chocolate, ice cream, cereal, McDonald’s/KFC/fast foods, etc.); and in soaps, detergents, toothpastes, & shampoos (the key ingredient, sodium lauryl sulfate, is made from palm oil).

    However, palm oil has huge negative environmental impacts. Palm oil causes massive destruction of rainforests and biodiversity as it acquires vast areas of land to build monoculture palm plantations. This Palm oil-driven deforestation then leads to the release of massive amounts of carbon dioxide (initially stored in the trees of rainforests) into the atmosphere. Thus, palm oil agriculture largely contributes to global warming.

    The small country of Indonesia, the world’s largest exporter of palm oil, is the 3rd largest carbon emitter in the world! Because of the massive amounts of carbon dioxide released from forests cleared to build palm oil plantations! Indonesia has the highest yearly rate of deforestation in the world (2 million hectares of forests are cleared per year). Every hour, forests covering the area of 300 soccer fields are cleared to build palm oil plantations!

    Palm oil is the reason that the Sumatran rhinoceros (only rhino species left in Asia) and the Sumatran tiger are nearly extinct; and that Orangutans are critically endangered (orangutan population has declined ~50% in past ten years; world population of wild Orangutans is under 20,000). These animals’ are killed as their natural habitats (forests) are cleared to build palm oil plantations, and if they survive & wander onto plantations in search of food, they are viewed as pests and killed. Could you imagine a world without rhinos, tigers, & Orangutans for your children or grandchildren??

    Obviously, it’s impossible to ask humans to stop using soaps, detergents, and shampoos. But we, humans, can and should stop consuming palm oil in processed foods and as a cooking oil. If we stop consuming palm oil, there will be no driving force for palm oil-related deforestation & biodiversity loss.

    Palm oil is largely used in processed foods and as a cooking oil, simply because it is cheap. But the truth is: palm oil is high in saturated fats and very UNhealthy.

    So I would like to ask you, Mr. Yao:

    Could you call to attention the destruction that palm oil causes (global warming, deforestation, & loss of biodiversity) and encourage the public to stop purchasing products (such as processed foods & cooking oil) containing palm oil??

    Thank you for reading this very long post:)


    August 13, 2012 at 11:09 am

  4. Big Fan

    What amazing photography and well put together commentary. I am impressed! Nice to see people in the spotlight who actually care to make a difference.

    August 14, 2012 at 12:11 pm

  5. Thank you Yao Ming for lending your fame to a wonderful cause. When we were in Hong Kong, our friend insisted on treating us to a shark fin soup dinner, we turned down his offer and told him about your effort in saving the sharks from needless slaughter. Hopefully with your help the Asian population will begin to understand the importance of wildlife conservation.

    August 15, 2012 at 4:25 am

  6. Winston T

    Thank you Yao Ming. You are probably one of the few Chinese who is using your fame to do something meaningful for the society. I applaud your effort. Hopefully with your effort, you will raise the awareness of the conservation for wild life, and rid this culture of some of its unsavory habits and traditions.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:58 pm

  7. Mindy Amos

    Thank you so much for sharing. The poaching of ivory from African elephants must stop! It has been going on far too long! Hopefully with posts like this, more people of fame with monies can come forward to put a stop to this terrible killing of such a precious animal. It is so very sad and unfortunate. If I ever have millions you can rest assured that I will use the money to stop this poaching by any means possible…….

    August 21, 2012 at 7:00 am

  8. Pingback: Yao Ming visits Kenya Aimed At Protecting African Elephants, Rhinos

  9. Yao Ming
    Your efforts on behalf of wildlife conservation will provide lasting respect and honor to you even greater than your athletic fame, and will grow immense in time as you have. Thank you for this valuable work. You are “The Man.”
    Arthur Mitchell

    August 21, 2012 at 3:06 pm

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