Yao Ming’s claim to fame was scoring points and blocking shots in the NBA, but the former baller isn’t spending his retirement sitting around counting his cash. Inspired by his love for animals, he’s decided to use his celebrity status to make a big impact.
In his home country of China, thousands of sharks were being caught, relieved of their fins, and then left in the ocean to die in order to meet the voracious, and increasing, demand for shark fin soup. In the past few decades, the traditional soup has become something of a status symbol, and as demand grew along with the Chinese middle class, China became by far the largest and most significant market for shark fin.
While you might be inclined to say that fewer sharks in the sea might not be a bad thing, hold up: depleting the ocean of predators can cause all kinds of imbalances that can upset a delicate ecosystem – similar to what happened in the Yellowstone area when the wolves disappeared.
Ming, through his alliance with the conservation nonprofit WildAid, believed in the power of knowledge and so sought to educate the Chinese public about what their desire for soup is costing sharks. They started with the slogan, “When the buying stops, the killing can too,” and their work has inspired near unanimous support for a ban on shark fin soup.
Part of the reason could be that, until recently, many Chinese weren’t even aware that shark fin was in the soup, since the Mandarin translation of the dish is “fish wing soup.” Now that they know, though, the Chinese are taking action; the number of sharks killed for their fins is down 50%, the government has banned the soup at state dinners, and 91% of citizens support an outright ban on shark fin consumption in the country.
Luckily for animals everywhere, Ming isn’t stopping with sharks – he’s now working with WildAid in Africa, hoping to have a similar effect on rhino and elephant poaching.
If you want to know more, you can check out Saving Africa’s Giants with Yao Ming on Animal Planet, or check out WildAid’s website to find out more – and maybe throw your own support behind the animals while you’re at it.