September 14: Dozens of Orphans and Old Friends

We started out early this morning with a short drive to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which should be on everyone’s list when visiting Kenya (read more about my first trip to the orphanage and the work they do).

Meeting the baby elephants is an amazing experience, but also saddening, especially when most are orphaned by the unnecessary trade in illegal ivory.

Last year, photos of me next to tiny baby elephant Kinango went viral. He was so tiny he looked like he had been shrunk and photoshopped in next to me, a perfect miniature of his elders, but sadly he was just too small and traumatized to survive without his mother and passed away shortly after my last trip. I learned that it is all too common for the very young to lose their will to live after their mother and sometimes whole herd have been brutally taken from them. The caretakers have to sleep in the small elephants’ enclosures at night so they feel safe.


Fortunately, the caretakers at the orphanage do not let stories like Kinango get them down, but redouble their efforts with the next arrival. I met up again with Julius, a passionate and gentle elephant caretaker.


Despite the mounting poaching crisis, leaving more elephants in need of support, Julius has retained his broad smile even when the elephants try to steal his hat.


It is easy to understand why the elephants take to him. The caretakers have another tiny ward wrapped in a blanket who I think and hope will beat the odds, Komak. He seems to already be closely attached to Julius.


As we head towards the open feeding area, the elephants crowd around us, knowing that if Julius trusts me I must be okay. I also get to touch ivory for the first time on a living elephant. It’s incredible that this fuss and tragedy is all over this tiny part of the animal. It reminds me of the small tusks I saw in the ivory room last year.

Then its feeding time! There’s always a stampede at feeding time and you have to watch they don’t step on your foot in the rush. Then they glug down the giant bottles in a matter of moments. Thankfully they don’t need to the burped.


Boy, can they down that giant bottle quickly! A few seconds and they’re done.

As the elephants roam around with their caretakers and enjoy their meals I speak with Julius about the poaching troubles. He confirms everything that I have heard and much worse.

As we leave the orphanage I am happy to have met Julius but troubled that the flow of baby orphans has not slowed. The Yao Ming Foundation, WildAid, and our partners Save the Elephants and African Wildlife Foundation will redouble our efforts to get the word out in China. Jiang Wen, Li Bing Bing, and some of China’s top CEOs are involved, too. In the US we have partnered with NBA Cares and Tyson Chandler has recorded a message as well as actor Edward Norton. He helps wildlife through the Maasai Wildlife Conservation Trust, too. And in England, Prince William and David Beckham.

We hope you can join us all and together we can help to ensure an end to the illegal ivory trade and that the only orphans here are from natural causes.



9 responses

  1. Rosie

    Thank you SO much for the work you are doing in China ! With you and also ENV (in Vietnam) doing such good work, I hope it will help to spread the message about ALL wildlife and the danger they are in. Thank you Yao, it gives me hope at last !

    September 25, 2013 at 12:32 am

  2. Moira Squeo

    Thank you for continuing your work for African wildlife, and most importantly, taking the conservation message back to your country, China. These next few years will be critical for the survival of elephants in the wild, so the ivory trade must be stopped! Thank you also for publicizing the work of David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an amazing organization.

    September 25, 2013 at 5:19 am

  3. Please continue – poachers have many needs to survive also, I’m sure but that should be provided by governments and education for the people so that they can provide for themselves properly. We need elephants on this planet as they are an important reminder of true animal/human relationship that the gods created!

    September 25, 2013 at 4:47 pm

  4. It is not complicated. Billions of people young and old love elephants. It will be really embarrassing for our species if we lose them. Thanks for trying to save them. If you can turn the tide in Asia, it will be your greatest victory.

    September 27, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    • CQ

      Ben is right. A victory over poaching will be better, Yao, than your biggest, boldest, baddest, at-the-buzzer slam dunk — “rocketing” you to hero status in the eyes of elephant and rhino lovers the world over!

      October 1, 2013 at 6:44 pm

  5. Pingback: Chinese Athlete Joins Effort for Elephants’ Protection

  6. John Varner

    Thank you! The killing of each these intelligent, sensitive creatures is a tragedy. Their possible extinction at our hands is a calamity that would bring shame on humanity.

    October 2, 2013 at 4:10 am

  7. CQ

    Yao and other ele friends, I just received this new petition telling Google to stop trafficking in ivory:

    October 2, 2013 at 11:46 am

  8. Emily Suzuki

    It is so important to have celebrity like you to stand up and show compassion and promote a worthy and humane cause. THE HORROR of the documentary Dolphin Cove and now this poaching for ivory show how low human beings can go and the ir total disregard for harmless lives to serve their own greedy purpose!

    October 5, 2013 at 11:07 am

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