William Pays Tribute to the Queen in Touching First Speech as Prince of Wales

Photo credit: Mark Cuthbert - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mark Cuthbert - Getty Images

It is the beginning of a new chapter. Prince William has given his first speech since becoming the next in line to the British throne, paying tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth II at a global summit for his United for Wildlife non-profit.

Speaking at London’s Science Museum, the prince of Wales addressed 300 global leaders from the private sector, philanthropists and conservation organizations, as well as law enforcement representatives, who had all gathered to tackle the critical issue of wildlife crime around the world.

He also praised the wildlife advocacy first championed by his father, King Charles III, and late grandfather, Prince Philip.

"Our natural world is one of our greatest assets," he said. "It is a lesson I learnt from a young age, from my father and grandfather, both committed naturalists in their own right, and also from my much-missed grandmother, who cared so much for the natural world. In times of loss, it is a comfort to honour those we miss through the work we do. I take great comfort from the progress we are making to end the illegal wildlife trade."

Illegal wildlife trafficking and poaching has long been at the forefront of Prince William’s work. Since launching the nonprofit in 2012, William, in his role as president, has overseen efforts to convene leading wildlife charities to create a global movement with the aim of bringing an end to issues such as the rapid escalation of the illegal wildlife trade and why it must be addressed as a serious organized crime.

"It is, of course, a difficult mission that we commit ourselves to," he said at the Oct. 4 summit. "The challenges often cited in fighting wildlife crime include the lack of a coordinated international response ... the lack of strong criminal justice ... corruption and insufficient resources. But we set out to reverse that."

Photo credit: Mark Cuthbert - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mark Cuthbert - Getty Images

"We set out to ensure that those involved in wildlife crime face an international response as powerful and coordinated as any other serious and organised crime," he said. "To bring their sinister operations out of the shadows and to ensure that communities are equipped, empowered and supported to protect themselves and their natural world. And everyone here is playing a significant role in helping us do so."

During the event, the $20 billion illegal wildlife trade—the fourth most profitable trafficking enterprise in the world (following drugs, arms and people)—dominated conversations across a series of talks and panel sessions, which aimed to find real solutions that can be activated together as a collective.

"While we do not have the luxury of time, clearly we do have a proven roadmap to success and the motivation to put it into action," Prince William said, "I hope you all leave here today energised and motivated to intensify this work. Because there are still too many criminals who believe they can act with impunity ... too many lives being destroyed ... and too many species on the brink of extinction due to this heinous crime."

The event comes just weeks after the U.S. sentencing of Moazu Kromah, who is now serving over five years in prison for leading one of the most active wildlife-trafficking syndicates on the African continent and conspiring to traffic more than $7 million worth of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn. The successful outcome came as a result of contributions from members and partners of United for Wildlife.

"U.S. authorities led the way in this case, but critical to its success was the collaboration of a broad range of organisations across multiple continents," the prince said. "United for Wildlife members were among them, assisting with a landmark case that sends a clear message to the criminal gangs facilitating wildlife trafficking: You will face serious consequences. Our work is far from complete and there’s so much more still to be done."

Before giving his speech, William sat in the audience for keynote speeches addressing several positive developments for the United for Wildlife network, including the first international public-private partnership to tackle money laundering in 19 countries across East and Southern Africa, and Colombia becoming the first country to sign the organization’s Buckingham Palace Declaration—a landmark agreement committing to shut down routes exploited by traffickers moving illegal wildlife products.

There was also a tribute to the 1,000 wildlife rangers who have lost their lives in the past 10 years, including Anton Mzimba, who died on the frontline of conservation earlier this year after 25 years of duty. At the time, William called for more support to be provided to rangers, who are helping protect animals and endangered species in some of the most remote regions on earth.

"The devastating news about Ranger Anton Mzimba is shocking confirmation of how vicious the illegal wildlife trade is," William explained. "Anton dedicated himself to the protection of wildlife, undertaking his role diligently and professionally despite threats to his life. 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. And it is also only right that we honour him by continuing our work with renewed focus and vigour."

Prince William’s speech on Tuesday highlighted one of the several key work themes the newly minted prince and princess of Wales will continue to focus on in the weeks ahead. Tomorrow, Princess Kate will carry out an engagement tied to her efforts in children’s early development.

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