In October 2018 Prince William made a joke at the fourth Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference. Not the time for levity? Actually, it was. He intended to highlight an issue close to his heart. And as he spoke, the scope of the problem he wished to fix became clear to those listening.
William has had a very busy year. First of all he and wife Kate Middleton welcomed their third child, Prince Louis, into the world in April 2018. Then his brother Prince Harry got married in May 2018 to American actress Meghan Markle. The two are now expecting their first child together.
William also went on a tour of Africa in September 2018. Without Kate by his side – she was on maternity leave – he visited Kenya, Tanzania and Namibia to tackle an issue dear to him. It has to do with the conservation of wildlife around the world.
Kensington Palace announced the trip on Twitter. “The private working trip is being made as Unite for Wildlife President and Tusk Patron ahead of the 2018 Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in London,” read the post. It ended with the hashtag “#EndWildlifeCrime.”
The Illegal Wildlife Conference took place in October 2018 in London. Many important people and world leaders attended, including the Presidents of Botswana, Gabon, Uganda and Kenya. William gave a speech to the gathered delegates about the problems surrounding conservation.
“It is heartening to see so many of you here today, united by our common desire to end the illegal wildlife trade,” William said. “I have just returned from a visit to Namibia, Tanzania and Kenya. I saw some tremendous work being done to [tackle] the trade and keep animals as safe as possible in their natural habitat.”
William continued, “I also learned about the absolute importance of community led conservation, so that people value wildlife as a community resource.” He then added, “Some of the rhinos I saw are under such threat that they have more bodyguards than I do.” It sounded like a joke at the expense of William’s staff. But there was a seriousness to it as well.
Some rhinos really are assigned bodyguards. The last northern white rhino male, Sudan, had 24-hour security in Kenya along with the remaining two females of his species. He had a team of 40 people assigned to him, according to CNN. Even William doesn’t need that many. During a trip to Canada in 2016 for example, just 12 members of the royal entourage joined his family.
Sadly, despite incredible efforts from all involved, Sudan the rhino died in March 2018. His death left experts with only a few hopes left for saving the species. Sperm samples taken from the deceased animal may be of help in the future. But for the meantime, the northern white rhino species is essentially lost.
William knows a thing or two about life with bodyguards, having had protection since his youth. Because of their position in the public eye, royal family members have round-the-clock security. William’s children too have minders.
Ken Wharfe, who worked on William and Harry’s security detail when they were kids, said the risk increases as the kids get older. They “become much more mobile,” he told Us Weekly. Now, while most people would never think about hurting the royal children, you can never be too careful.
However, rhinos are under threat for a very different reason. They are poached for their horns, largely for medicinal purposes. Trophy hunting has also whittled their numbers down. Despite new laws being drawn up in South Africa and elsewhere, and charities spreading awareness of the issue, rhinos are still endangered.
There is a huge groundswell of public concern and support to combat rhino poaching in Africa. According to Save the Rhino, there are over 150 organizations working to address the issue. However, campaigners worry that there is a lack of coordination among the groups trying to save the animals.
After his joke, William went on to discuss other options for the rhinos in question. He asked, “Wouldn’t it be better, though, if the demand for rhino horn dropped to the extent that they didn’t need anyone to protect them at all?” He then began speaking about his children, and the well-founded fears he had regarding them.
“It’s heartbreaking to think that by the time my children […] are in their twenties, elephants, rhinos and tigers might well be extinct in the wild.” William added, “I for one am not willing to look [them] in the eye and say we were the generation that let this happen on our watch.”
“Caring about the environment – our air, water, land and animals – is motivated by something that is simple and universal,” William concluded. “A desire to protect this planet for those who will come after us. I firmly believe that the natural world is our biggest and most important asset, and the key to our future prosperity.”
William has worked with wildlife organizations for years. He became patron of the conservation charity Tusk Trust all the way back in 2005. And when William married Kate Middleton in 2011, attendees gave charitable donations instead of gifts. The money went to 26 organizations the couple had chosen.
Meanwhile, work is being done right now to try and save the rhinos. During the Illegal Wildlife Conference, the U.K. government announced it would fund a new anti-poaching taskforce. The British army will train African park rangers to help prevent poaching and protect more animals.
The U.S. government is also directing resources towards ending wildlife crime, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions informed the conference. “The United States views poaching and trafficking of protected wildlife as a threat to good governance, a threat to the rule of law, a challenge to our stewardship and responsibility for this good Earth,” he said.
So William has a lot of power on his side when it comes to saving animals. Hopefully, it will be enough. Despite the sobering outlook, a tremendous amount of work is still being done to protect endangered animals. Maybe eventually there will come a time where William still needs bodyguards, but rhinos don’t.