Yao Ming has become a hero for both basketball fans and animal lovers alike. The 7-foot-6 retired Chinese NBA player has partnered with WildAid for the last five years to help stem the demand for shark fin soup in his home country. “People said it was impossible to change China, but the evidence we are now getting says consumption of shark fin soup in China is down by 50 to 70 percent in the last two years,” Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid, told The Washington Post in 2013. And such a consumption decrease has continued in 2016. “It is a myth that people in Asia don’t care about wildlife. Consumption is based on ignorance rather than malice.” When WildAid began its shark fin campaign in 2006, 75 percent of Chinese were unaware that shark fin soup actually involved sharks because the Mandarin translation is “fish wing soup.” Additionally, 19 percent believed the fins grew back.
The “I’m FINished with Fins” campaign, which also featured Jackie Chan, soccer star David Beckham and NBA player Jeremy Lin, has been credited with reducing the tens of millions of sharks killed for their fins each year in China by at least 50 percent. Buoyed by the success of that campaign, Yao has now expanded his preservation efforts to rhinos and elephants, two species that have suffered massive population declines due to increased demand for ivory from the increasingly affluent Chinese market. However, a 2007 survey by the International Fund for Animal Welfare found 70 percent of China people did not even know ivory comes from dead elephants. The Chinese word for ivory, “xiangya,” translates to “elephant teeth,” creating the misconception that ivory falls out and grows back naturally.