By: Larry Olmsted


Talk about your win-wins. If you are going to drink very good wine anyway, why not save endangered animals at the same time?

As a fan of animals and a huge fan of wildlife-viewing safaris, a travel topic I have written on over and over again, I have come to loathe, hate and despise all forms of animal poaching and illegal wildlife trade, from decorative ivory to shark fin soup to idiotic beliefs in the magical powers of pseudo-medicinal concoctions made from rhino horns.

Because the illegal wildlife trade is entirely driven by demand and market forces, one way to fight it that makes sense is to reduce demand. One NGO that has been especially effective at this approach is WildAid, a nonprofit organization whose concrete mission is to end the illegal wildlife trade in our lifetimes. While many wildlife conservation groups try to directly protect animals from poaching (not a bad approach either), WildAid focuses on reducing global consumption of threatened products by changing consumer perceptions to eliminate demand. To this end, they have assembled an impressive global portfolio of celebrity ambassadors and media partners, leveraging nearly $200 million in annual pro bono media support to get out one vital message: When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too.


One longtime WildAid spokesperson is Yao Ming, an NBA superstar who was the League’s tallest player when he retired in 2011. He was a 5-time All-NBA and 8-time All-Star Game starter, and hailing from China, is the only foreign-born player ever to be number one in All-Star balloting, He is wildly popular in his native land, which is also the source of many wildlife trafficking issues, so his impact on Chinese consumers is especially important – TIME Magazine named him one of the world’s 100 most influential people. Joining Sir Richard Branson in a campaign to save sharks, he has been very publicly against shark fin soup and is also involved in documentaries and campaigns to curb elephant and rhino poaching. Earlier this year Yao was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame and has continued in his role and humanitarian and a newer role – as a vintner.

He founded Yao Family Wines in California’s Napa Valley in 2011 and while many celebrity wines fizzle, he has quickly enjoyed the same level of success he had in the NBA. Robb Report magazine named the label to its Best of the Best list in 2012, the same year Wine Enthusiast magazine nominated it for 2012 American Winery of the Year. The world’s single most influential wine critic, Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate, awarded a stunning 95 point rating to the 2010 Yao Ming Family Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (and 90 points to the 2010 Yao Ming Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon), writing: “I am aware of all the arguments that major celebrities lending their names to wines is generally a formula for mediocrity, but that is not the case with Yao Ming. These are high-class wines. The two Cabernets are actually brilliant, and the Reserve bottling ranks alongside just about anything made in Napa.” Wine Enthusiast went even further, awarding the labels extraordinary scores of 97 and 95 points respectively. The winery specializes exclusively in cabernet.


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About WildAid

WildAid is a non-profit organization with a mission to protect wildlife from illegal trade and other imminent threats. While most wildlife conservation groups focus on protecting animals from poaching, WildAid primarily works to reduce global consumption of wildlife products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and shark fin soup. With an unrivaled portfolio of celebrity ambassadors and a global network of media partners, WildAid leverages more than $308 million in annual pro-bono media support with a simple message: When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too. 

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