Chinese Actress Li Bingbing: 'Say No to Ivory'

The “Transformers 4” star joins Lily Tomlin, Khloe Kardashian and other celebrities in designing a sculpture for the Elephant Parade campaign at Dana Point.

When not shooting movies around the world, Chinese star Li Bingbing devotes much of her time to environmental and animal rights causes. The Resident Evil: Retribution and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan actress called from Chicago, where she is filming Transformers 4, to talk to The Hollywood Reporter about her other latest project: joining nearly 40 artists and celebrities in the Elephant Parade, an internationally touring art exhibition to raise awareness and aid for the Asian elephant.

“The threat of extinction is more real than many realize,” says Li. Threats including ivory poaching and deforestation have caused the Asian elephant population to shrink by over 90 percent in the last century, dwindling to just 3,500 individuals today, only 1,500 of which live in the wild. “And the damage done to elephants directly leads to destruction of the ecosystem.”

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Each Elephant Parade artist has designed a life-size, hand-painted baby elephant sculpture (six feet long and five feet high). The elephants are displayed in open-air exhibitions, or “Parades,” that have been held in various Asian and European cities since 2010, and today the Parade comes to the United States for the first time. More than 30 painted elephants from celebrities including Lily Tomlin and Khloe Kardashian, as well as notables from the art world like street artist Chor Boogie, will remain in various public spots throughout Dana Point through Nov. 16, after which they will be auctioned off to raise funds for The Asian Elephant Foundation. The Elephant Parade has raised more than $6 million to date to establish elephant hospitals, fund research projects and restore habitats for the endangered species.

A longtime environmentalist, Li, a United Nations Environment Programme national ambassador to China, chose the theme “One Hundred Flowers” for her design, inspired by a well-known Chinese poem that celebrates freedom of thought. “Also, any place where fresh flowers can bloom like this means there is ample vegetation and water,” she said. “That’s all elephants need to survive, and people should restore that for them.”

This isn’t the first time Li has been involved in the pachyderm cause. In May she traveled to Kenya to learn about the plight of elephants devastated by ivory poaching.  A “Say No to Ivory” PSA she posted upon her return went viral in China, landing on the front page of China’s Sina Weibo portal. And through her foundation L.O.V.E, she partnered with Gucci on a special edition watch and bracelet made from bamboo and Tagua nut, a sustainable material known as “vegetable ivory.”

“Environmental work isn’t easy, but we’re persistent because we believe we’ll see results,” Li says. “It’s not like you can’t live without ivory. When people realize the cruelty these animals are subjected to, they will naturally change their consumer habits.”