The death of Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, has Earther’s staff really bummed. His death at age 45 was a major loss for the conservation community and the fate of his species now rests on in vitro fertilization.
But we’re far from the only Sudan admirers. Notable enormous human and former NBA player Yao Ming was also a rhino aficionado. And unlike us, he was able to visit Sudan and other rhinos on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The photos documenting his time with Sudan in August 2012 are...something.
Any pictures of someone who is 7'6" tall in otherwise normal situations are weird as hell. Looking at Yao’s hand engulf one of Sudan’s caretakers’ is certainly weird, but it’s truly some next level shit to see him dwarf a rhino that weighs multiple tons.
The photos weren’t taken so we could have a chuckle about a dead rhino or Yao’s gangly frame, though. Yao is a literal and figurative huge conservationist (come write for Earther!), and his visit was part of a global campaign to end the illegal rhino horn trade that’s decimated northern white rhinos as well as other species. In 2013, he released a documentary about his efforts to help save rhinos and elephants.
Rhino horn is used as a traditional Chinese medicine (though there’s no proof it does much of anything), and China is the biggest black market for rhino horn in the world. (Important aside: While there’s been a lot of focus on curtailing the black market for rhino horn, it’s worth noting that a long history of Westerners hunting rhinos for trophies also got us in this situation.)
Prince Harry and David Beckham also joined the campaign. But having a global celebrity who happens to be Chinese speak out about the trade could be a big conservation boost. Yao has a track record of success, too. After he did a campaign showing how shark fin soup is made, consumption in China dropped up to 70 percent.
Celebrities from Vietnam—a key part of the rhino horn black market—were also part of the campaign and had a chance to visit Sudan as well. They just don’t look quite as crazy as Yao next to Sudan.