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Yao Ming Speaks Out On Behalf Of Elephants

<p><a class="checked-link" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/2310550443/in/photolist-4wbb9B-5DqRB2-5DqPqa-5Dv7JA-4wf9iC-5DqLDK-5DqN5a-4wb5Ca-4wba4r-5Dv7p1-4wfbD7-4wfaLU-4wf8oy-5DqP4P-6Z6TAh-7isWc1-4wfiHU-4wbaGp-5DqNpR-4wfjds-4wfc8A-5cf1ff-94G57N-6Z2SXF-5caQG8-5DqRwB-52by4P-5DqRN8-5Dv74N-5Dv6EJ-5DqMMt-5DqNEg-6wJMDm-5DqREp-5Dv9Tf-5DqQ2V-5DvaK5-5Dv8US-5DqRSF-4pzwQC-bHxFpT-5Dv7Tf-hFVta9-5DqNLV-7d4XnB-8vys7q-8vujZV-8vtC48-9etUfk-8vw3w7">Keith Allison/Flickr</a></p>

Former NBA player Yao Ming is used to dominating - at least on the court, that is. When it comes to saving Africa's wildlife, he's facing a much more formidable opponent than another team's point guard: the international wildlife trade. But Ming is throwing his full 7-foot-six-inch frame into the fray, traveling through Africa to raise awareness for the plight of elephants and rhinos.

Along with Peter Knights, the executive director of WildAid, Ming has launched a marketing campaign in Asia, where the demand for ivory and rhino horn is highest. According to Ming, the problem is still not well understood in his native country.

"Most Chinese people didn't really understand where ivory came from, that so many elephants were being poached for their tusks," he told The Dodo. "That's why raising awareness is so important and can have such a big impact."

Ming said that when he visited Africa, the situation became very real to him, especially when he met one baby elephant, with whom he formed a special bond. "I fed an orphan elephant formula from a bottle," he said. "He was only two weeks old and had lost his mother to poaching. She was killed for her ivory tusks."

(Kristian Schmidt/WildAid)

When he toured an underground bunker where Kenyan police keep a massive stockpile of 3 million tons of confiscated ivory, he really began to understand the gravity of the situation.

(Kristian Schmidt/WildAid)

As part of his campaign, Ming teamed up with Animal Planet to create a special titled "Saving Africa's Giants," which airs Tuesday night. He said in a statement provided to The Dodo "people will watch it and understand how critical it is that we put an end to the ivory trade."

The threats to Africa's elephants are more pressing than ever. In the past three years alone, a whopping 100,000 African elephants were killed by poachers, according to a study published this year in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And rhinos are faring similarly - in 2013, more than 1,000 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone for their horns, which are valued for their alleged healing properties in traditional medicines.

According to Ming, the problem is international - and it requires an international solution.

"China's economy has grown, and so has its market for ivory," he said. "I'm doing what I can with WildAid to raise awareness there through billboards, PSAs, talking to the media and doing public appearances. But, it's a global issue and we all have a role to play. China, the U.S., Europe and countries like Vietnam need to unite to reduce demand and end the poaching crisis."

(Kristian Schmidt/WildAid)