Two young men's fight for elephant protection
Updated 11:32, 20-Mar-2019
By Lin Nan
03:13

Two young Chinese men are on a mission to protect elephants. 

One of them is Zhang Chaodao, the director of a documentary revealing the inhumane training and treatment of elephants in Thailand. Zhang said he will never forget the sight and sounds that he experienced during one encounter in the Southeast Asian country.

"Suddenly, the elephant didn't want to go," he said. "The mahout again used his ankus to hook the elephant. Then we heard the sound of the elephant skin ripped apart, with his ankus. Then this elephant suddenly started going crazy. It has the sound that we could never imagine in our lives."  

An Asian elephant. /VCG Photo

An Asian elephant. /VCG Photo

The Shanghai video maker is the producer of a 9-minute documentary called "Black Elephant" in Thailand. 

Zhang said, "Thailand is the biggest tourist spot for Chinese people. A lot of Chinese people go there, and on their bucket lists, the first thing is riding elephants or watching an elephant show. I would like more Chinese people to see what's going on."

The documentary has been viewed online millions of times since its release in 2017. He urges travelers to stop riding elephants and watching elephant shows, and go to elephant sanctuaries instead and travel more responsibly.

"As a consumer, you change what you buy, you choose what you buy, with this change, you also change the system little by little," he said.

In 2017, three Chinese travel agencies announced that they would stop selling elephant ride and performance products.

While Zhang urges Chinese consumers to use their power to raise elephant welfare, Huang Hongxiang, another young Chinese, put his life in great danger, going undercover in Africa to expose ivory traffickers.

Huang Hongxiang, a wildlife protection activist, recalled how dangerous the undercover investigation was. "A lot of the time I'm wearing a hidden camera, and if certain people found me with it, I'd be in major trouble."

A newborn Asian elephant. /VCG Photo

A newborn Asian elephant. /VCG Photo

Huang was featured in the 2016 documentary The Ivory Game. He posed as a Chinese ivory buyer who tricked a Ugandan dealer into a police trap.

"When the police show up, I'd be the person closest to that criminal. So who knows what could happen. Who knows whether he has a gun or a knife, or what he might do," he said.

The documentary has brought Huang a lot of exposure, meaning he'll never go undercover again. But he said there's a reason for him to go public.

Huang said, "There are a million people in China who can totally do the same. But why so far have there been relatively few Chinese doing these kinds of things? Why when you go to the global wildlife conservation or global NGO area you see a lot of white and black people, some South Americans, but you don't see a lot of Chinese faces?"

Tons of ivory products. /VCG Photo‍

Tons of ivory products. /VCG Photo‍

China banned all ivory trade and processing activities in late 2017. It was hailed as a monumental step to save elephants from extinction.

Huang and Zhang share a mission and send the same message: Protect elephants and let them live freely.

For more information about Asian elephants, you can read An Endangered Giant: Asian elephants spotted in rural Chinese village

(Top image via VCG)

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