"Chinese attitudes towards buying illegal wildlife products such as rhino horn and ivory are undergoing a "big change", according to Jackie Chan.
The action film star, who was born in China and lives in Hong Kong for much of the year, said that although he had eaten shark fin soup and used tiger bone as a young man, he now wanted to end the demand in Asia that is fuelling the killing of wildlife in Africa. People in China, the world's biggest market for ivory and other illegal wildlife parts, had turned against the products in the past five years, he told the Guardian.
Chan, an ambassador for the US charity WildAid, was speaking in London to launch a new primetime advertising campaign that will air on China's main channel CCTV and aims to persuade Chinese consumers to stop buying rhino horn. Chan compared the generational change in Chinese views on ivory consumption to the shift that had taken place in younger Chinese people against smoking.
His comments come as countries, including a minister from China and four African heads of state, met for a summit in London on Thursday with the Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge to coordinate the international community's response to the £12bn-a-year trade, that is killing tens of thousands of elephants annually and saw more than 1,000 of the world's remaining 30,000 rhinos killed in South Africa alone last year.
Chan met with the duke last night and quipped that the first thing the he had been asked was when the actor would make Rush Hour 4, the next film in his martial arts series featuring a Hong Kong inspector and US detective. "I thought we were going to be talking about rhinos," he joked.
Declaring that "humans have already destroyed the Earth enough", Chan said he hoped people who saw his new advert would reconsider buying wildlife products. "I want people to concentrate. You're hurting animals, yourself. With education, people will understand. Everyone has a good heart."
He cited the changing public mood against eating shark fin soup in China, a status symbol that was often served at parties and special occasions, as evidence that attitudes could change in China. "These days when you eat shark fin soup, people say 'what are you doing'?" he said.
Chan said that being a father to a daughter and a son had influenced his views and compelled him to speak out on the wildlife trade. "I think China's government and people, everybody knows we need to do the right thing. With 1.4 billion people, if everyone had a piece of ivory … we must stop."
He defended the Chinese government's record on the issue. "China underground did a lot of the right things, just nobody reported [them], they just report the negative things."
Hollywood had also changed in its attitudes toward animals, he said, recalling a film he shot 30 years ago when a camel was killed by a director during filming. "At that time, I was so angry. I say – why'd you kill the camel? He said 'it was so cool'. I'm glad this kind of director has disappeared." By comparison, he said, animal welfare experts were always present whenever animals were used on film sets today.
Chan said his relationship with animals was influenced by having been brought up in a household that always had pets. He currently has three dogs (two others recently died) and five cats. "I just love animals, I don't know why. I am tough but I have a pretty good heart."