LONDON (AP) — Prince William delivered his first speech as heir to the British throne at a wildlife protection summit Tuesday, signaling that the royal family will continue to champion environmental causes as King Charles III is forced to step back from front-line campaigning.
William delivered the keynote speech at the United for Wildlife global summit in London, addressing some 300 representatives of law enforcement agencies, conservation groups and corporations that are working to combat the trade in illegal wildlife products, which is estimated at $20 billion annually.
The prince and his Royal Foundation created United for Wildlife in 2014 to protect endangered species from the illegal trade in goods such as elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn. Working with organizations that target money laundering and other forms of organized crime, the group says it has trained over 100,000 people and contributed to some 250 arrests and 200 seizures of illegal animal products around the world.
The natural world is a gift everyone should protect, William told the gathering.
“It is a lesson I learnt from a young age, from my father and my grandfather, both committed naturalists in their own right, and also from my much-missed grandmother, who cared so much for the natural world,” he said, referring to Charles and the late Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II. “In times of loss, it is a comfort to honor those we miss through the work we do.”
William cited the recent conviction of a 49-year-old man on wildlife trafficking charges as an example of the way agencies are working across borders to tackle the problem.
Moazu Kromah, a citizen of Liberia, conspired with two other men to smuggle about 190 kilograms (419 pounds) of rhino horns and 10 tons of ivory from various East African nations to buyers in the U.S. and Southeast Asia from 2012 to 2019, according to the U.S. Justice Department. Around 35 rhinos and 100 elephants are likely to have been poached to supply this weight of material, the department said.
Kromah, 49, was extradited to New York from Uganda in 2019. He pled guilty to three wildlife trafficking charges earlier this year and was sentenced to 63 months in jail.
The conviction was the result of cooperation between authorities in Uganda and Kenya, as well as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Justice Department said.
But despite such successes, violent criminals continue to poach because of the huge profits in illegal wildlife trafficking, William said. Anton Mzimba, a wildlife ranger who was shot to death outside his home in South Africa earlier this year, is believed to have been one of their victims.
“Anton dedicated himself to the protection of wildlife, undertaking his role diligently and professionally despite threats to his life,” the prince said. “He stood up to violent criminals and paid the ultimate price. It is only right that we pay tribute to him and all the other selfless rangers and frontline conservationists here today.”
William’s speech came less than a month after he took on the role of heir to the throne as his father, now King Charles III, became monarch following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. The choice of venue demonstrates that environmental protection will remain a royal priority, even though Charles is likely to step back from an issue he has championed for 50 years.
Under the rules that govern Britain’s constitutional monarchy, the sovereign is barred from interfering in political issues. To ensure she complied with these rules, Elizabeth assiduously kept her opinions to herself throughout her long reign.
While Charles has acknowledged he will have to be more careful with his public statements now that he is king, he has also made clear that he planned to pass on the baton.
“It will no longer be possible for me to give so much of my time and energies to the charities and issues for which I care so deeply,” the new king said in his first address to the nation. “But I know this important work will go on in the trusted hands of others.”
William’s own commitment to the environment was on display last summer when he spoke during an internationally televised concert held outside Buckingham Palace to celebrate the late queen’s 70 years on the throne.
With images of a lush, green jungle projected on the walls of the palace behind him, William called for international cooperation in combating climate change.
“Together, if we harness the very best of humankind, and restore our planet, we will protect it for our children, for our grandchildren and for future generations to come,” he said.