United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Interview with Don Cheadle, Hollywood actor and UNEP Goodwill Ambassador


There's nothing like a brush with death to concentrate the mind, and ? as actor Don Cheadle tells it ? a narrow escape from a charging rhino got him thinking hard about biodiversity. He was visiting an African animal sanctuary while recovering from knee surgery, which made walking difficult, when an 'almost fully grown, black rhino' took against him.

He tried to run away but: 'as I glanced back to see how close death was, I saw one and a half tons of angry adolescent rhino, not two feet away, focused squarely on my back pockets. With my hobbled leg there was no chance to outrun him. But I dug deep down, self preservation taking over, and miraculously, impossibly managed to scale an eight foot high fence to my left.

'Sitting up there on my perch,' the star of Hotel Rwanda continues, 'a thought crept into my head: 'Maybe this charging rhino has it right. If I were a wild animal watching my habitat slowly disappear as humankind encroached upon it further and further, my water diminishing and my food sources becoming more scarce as a result of global warming and the proliferation of pollutants, I might try to take matters into my own hooves and take a human being off the count. Who could blame me?' '

Born in Kansas City 46 years ago, and growing up in Denver, Cheadle had a 'mounting interest' in the environment from as far back as he can remember. He recalls wondering, as a child, where all the waste he produced would go and was inspired by the open spaces of Colorado to want to protect them. Later he lived in Nebraska, where water rationing was common. These and other early environmental influences 'created a mental landscape', which inspired him 'to care'.

And care he does. He has long campaigned against the genocide portrayed in the film for which he is most famous. In 2007 he was awarded the BET (Black Entertainment Television) Humanitarian award for services to the people of Darfur and Rwanda, and, together with fellow actor George Clooney, was presented with the Summit Peace Award by Nobel Peace Prize laureates for their work in the stricken part of the Sudan.

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