Jefferson Award Winner Co-Founded Wild AidBy Allen Martin

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5)  — At wildlife advocacy group WildAid, it’s about the slogan: “When the buying stops, the killing can too.”

Peter Knights co-founded the San Francisco non-profit in 2000 with the goal of saving endangered animals, starting with sharks, elephants, and rhinos.

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“What I realized was the disconnect between the people buying the products and where the products were coming from,” he explained. “So that was our challenge: how do we connect people? What I found is that when people in Asia knew what was going on they were just as appalled as we would be.”

He started in Asia, where a booming economy meant more people could afford exotic delicacies. And he realized there was no one better to better to deliver his message than celebrities.

“You say, ‘Hey if Jackie Chan doesn’t want to do this, why would you want to do it? Yao Ming doesn’t want to do this, why would you want to do it?'” he said.

Knights says over the last three years, imports of shark fin to China have dropped 80%. And the Chinese government has banned shark fin from official government functions. He says the price of ivory is down 60%. And in Taiwan, consumption of rhino horn is down to virtually zero. WildAid is now working to save pangolins. Their meat is considered a delicacy and their scales are used as medicine. They are also the world’s most illegally-trafficked mammal.

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The Monterey Bay Aquarium‘s Julie Packard is one of Knights’ biggest supporters.

“He just zeroed in on (the fact that) it’s people that we need to target and people that are causing the problem here. So how are we going to communicate and get them to change?” she said.

And Knights realizes that changing people can bring them together.

“Everybody I’ve met around the world cares if there’s no more tigers left, but we’re only going to solve it by working together,” he said.

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So for working to save endangered animals from extinction, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Peter Knights.