December 5th, 2014
06:05 AM ET

A mission close to Yao Ming's heart

It’s no secret that Yao Ming is tall, but in person – he’s larger than life.

And it’s not just his height that’s impressive. He has one of the biggest hearts of anyone around.

Between his professional basketball career – to launching his own wine label – Yao Ming’s interests have run the gamut.

But he’ll tell you, working to save endangered animals is especially meaningful to him.

“I feel they have a personality – just like us,” Yao said of the rhinos and elephants he met during a trip to Africa two years ago. “Some are very funny. Some are very shy. They have a good memory too – and know the people who treat them very well.”

Yao has been an ambassador for WildAid since 2006 – helping to wean China off shark fin soup – and most recently fighting to end ivory poaching.

He says part of the struggle is getting China to change its perception of ivory, which is often associated with wealth and status.

There also aren’t clear guidelines in China about ivory that is legal – versus illegal. Yao says that leads to confusion.

“If we can have government make a clear policy that everything is illegal – that would help a lot.”

WildAid estimates that 33,000 elephants are killed each year for their tusks, and that the rhino population has declined by 95 percent over the past 40 years.

The Environmental Investigation Agency says China is one of the biggest markets for illegal ivory trade.

Check out the video above for more on Yao’s anti-poaching mission.


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