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Yao Ming to African rhino poachers: Make my day

Aug 13, 2012, 4:12 PM EDT

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I’m willing to bet that this is the only photo of Yao Ming with armed rhinoceros protector militia that you’ll see today. Likewise the photo following the jump, showing him in close proximity with a lion in the wild. Also: warthogs! Which one hardly ever sees in Houston.

The 7-foot-6 Yao, who retired from basketball due to foot and ankle injuries following a nine-year NBA career with the Rockets, is in Africa this week on a conservation mission for WildAid, for which he has been a global ambassador for the past several years. Yao is learning about the dangers facing endangered elephants and rhinoceroses, which are being hunted in Africa to feed the demand in Asian nations for medicines derived from ivory and rhino horn. Yao’s simple message to his countrymen: Hey, stop it.

On Tuesday Yao was spotted at the British Natural History Museum in London, noted the Los Angeles Times, which treated the sighting as if they’d just seen a rare giant fossil. But actually it was the first leg of his trip for WildAid. Yao, from his web site:

“We saw the skeletons and exhibits of many animals that are now extinct. I learned that, in the grand scheme of things, extinction can be a natural process, a part of animals and plants adapting and changing – all part of evolution. But every so often there is a mass extinction event like the asteroid strike, which scientists believe wiped out the dinosaurs.

“Many scientists believe we are now in the middle of the sixth great mass extinction, but for the first time, it’s being caused by an animal – human beings.

“Both elephants and rhinos are being hunted at record levels for their ivory and horns. I was really shocked to learn that even dead rhinos aren’t safe. Across Europe, organized criminals have been stealing rhino horns from museums to supply the Asian market for rhino horns. Now, museums are replacing the horns on exhibit with fake ones. Sam told me, ironically, many of these museum horns may have been treated with preservatives so anyone trying to use these stolen horns may actually be poisoning themselves.”

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In Africa, Yao went on a rhino patrol at the Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya.

“Rhino patrolling is no joke — it involves walking for hours on end, several times a day, until every last rhino is spotted at least once every three days. The rhino patrollers know each and every rhino by name and sight, and if they can’t find one during their daily patrol, then they use a plane to patrol the entire conservancy until all rhinos are accounted for!”

I’d love to see the look on the faces of the poachers when they see a 7-foot-6 Chinese guy coming at them with armed backup.

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Photos courtesy WildAid.org.