Familiar names and faces are used around the world to sell every imaginable type of product to consumers, so conservation groups are turning to the same approach to try to help save wildlife such as elephants and rhinos. The long-term survival of the animals, which are a big draw for tourists to national parks in Africa and Asia, is threatened by a growing illicit trade in wildlife products.
Earlier this month, as government leaders gathered in London to discuss new measures to combat wildlife trafficking, the conservation group WildAid highlighted two Public Service Announcements (PSAs) that are part of a campaign aimed at consumers.
The PSAs feature action star Jackie Chan, NBA great Yao Ming, former soccer star David Beckham and the Duke of Cambridge. The short videos are part of "the world's largest campaign to reduce the demand for endangered species products." Working with hundreds of Asian and Western celebrities and business leaders, WildAid has developed a series of PSA's urging people not to support the illegal wildlife trade.
Parallels Between War on Drugs and Battle Against Illegal Wildlife Trade
Organizers of the effort draw a parallel between the fight against illegal drugs and the illicit trade in products such ivory and rhino horns.
'Just as with the drug trade, traditional focus on enforcement in producing countries has not worked. We must address the demand side if we are to save these animals,' said WildAid's Executive Director, Peter Knights.
'From our vantage point on the ground in Africa, law enforcement alone cannot protect Africa's wildlife from the demand of millions of consumers,' explained African Wildlife Foundation CEO Dr. Patrick Bergin.
Purchases of Rhino Horns Funds Poacher's "Tools of the Trade"
Longtime WildAid ambassador Jackie Chan went to London to urge government officials meeting there to redouble their efforts to stop illegal wildlife trafficking. 'If you are buying rhino horn you may be paying for more than just the horn,' said Chan in a new video message. 'You're paying for guns, bullets, poisoned arrows, chainsaws, axes, and machetes to hack off the face of the rhino. And you are paying for the life of a beautiful creature.'
In the PSA "Tools of the Trade,' Chan dodges weapons as a 'rhino' is built of the tools of the poaching trade. After the 'rhino' is assembled, it collapses under its own weight, and a real, 6,300-pound animal named "Spike" rises from the pile of weaponry. The message closes as Chan appeals to viewers not to buy rhino horn products.
You can view an English language version of the PSA below...and if you'd like to see the same spot with the dialogue in Mandarin, you'll find it at this link.
The campaign will be screened extensively in conjunction with a billboard campaign in China and Vietnam. The effort has already gotten coverage on some major Asian media outlets, including Chinanews.com; you'll find an English version of one such story here. This video includes an interview with Jackie Chan on CCTV, China's largest national broadcasting network, about his passion for wildlife protection and other charitable causes.
'Whole World,' the second new PSA message, features The Duke of Cambridge, former soccer star David Beckham, NBA great Yao Ming, and a "crash of rhinos in Wembley Stadium." The video takes advantage of modern media technology; portions of the clips with the human stars were filmed first, and the images of the rhino, which were filmed separately, were added later. You can view the short message here.
"A Global Effort to End Demand for These Products"
'The Duke of Cambridge and David Beckham are both highly respected in Asia, where the word needs to go out. Bringing them together with Yao underlines the need for a global effort to end demand for these products and support conservation efforts on the ground,' said Peter Knights, WildAid Executive Director. 'This trade not only threatens these iconic animals with ruthless slaughter, it undermines African economies and tourism revenues while fueling corruption and funding organized crime and even terrorist activity.'
WildAid ambassador and former NBA star Yao Ming has seen the poaching first-hand on two visits to Africa while filming an upcoming documentary. 'We can [symbolically] fill [Wembley] and many more [stadiums with rhinos] if we can stop the illegal trade,' Yao says in the new message. 'Ask your friends and family never to buy rhino horn,' adds David Beckham.
Ad Campaign Focuses On Asian Markets
The campaign is focusing heavily on Asian markets, where rising incomes help fuel the largest demand for rhino and elephant products.
A recent survey from WildAid, the Yao Ming Foundation and other groups indicates a large portion of China's population is unaware that rhino horn products come from poached rhinos. Perhaps more encouraging: a greater number of residents surveyed support government-enforced bans on the products.
Can such campaigns help? There's encouraging news from a similar effort focusing on shark fins.
'We must reduce demand if we are going to save these animals,' said retired NBA Star Yao Ming, an iconic figure in China. 'We made tremendous progress reducing demand for shark fin soup through a similar campaign and a government ban at banquets is also helping... I hope we can do the same for ivory and rhino horn.'
Chinese media including CCTV, Xinhua, and Sina.com, donated over $100 million (U.S.) of media space to the shark fin campaign and, together with a government ban, the effort is credited with reducing China's shark fin consumption by 50-70%.
Yao spearheaded the shark fin initiative and launched the 'Say No to Ivory and Rhino Horn' campaign in partnership with WildAid, African Wildlife Foundation, and Save the Elephants. Work is now underway to finish filming 'The End of the Wild', a documentary scheduled for release later this year.
Poaching Data Adds Urgency to the Effort
Recent statistics from both Africa and Asia underscore the need for such efforts.
South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs recently announced that poachers killed at least 1,004 of the country's rhinos in 2013, compared to 13 in 2007. That's an average of about three deaths per day last year, and officials say there are almost certainly other losses that aren't discovered. South Africa is home to about 80 percent of the world's rhino population. Most live in the sprawling Kruger National Park, where the majority of the poaching occurs.
In India's Kaziranga National Park, at least seven one-horned rhinos have been killed by poachers already this year in what media reports described as a "killing spree." The park is the home of two-thirds of the world's population of about 3,000 one-horned rhinos, and also holds the highest density of tigers among all the protected areas in the world.
Those, and similar reports, inspired a strongly-worded declaration and call for action from the delegates representing over 40 nations at the International Wildlife Trafficking Symposium in London. The document is significant for its agreement by nations such as China and Viet Nam to renounce the use of products from species threatened with extinction.
Now the big question is whether consumers of those products will agree.
Organizers of the media campaign are hopeful they will, and their goal is summed up in a simple slogan: "When the buying stops, the killing can too.'