Published 19 October 2015

At this rate, children born this year – like my daughter Charlotte – will see the last wild elephants and rhinos die before their 25th birthdays.

The Duke of Cambridge

Ladies and gentlemen,

Never before have we had so many different ways to talk to one another.

In the distant past, written documents would be carried by hand across thousands of miles from China to Western Europe.

Today, we access knowledge from all over the world, through our mobile phones, at the tap of a key.

Wherever you are watching this programme – whether in this hall, at work, with your friends, or at home with your families;

Xièxiè [thank you]

Hen gaoxing he ni jianmian  [I’m pleased to meet you]

Thank you for welcoming me into your homes.

Many of the most important conversations we have in our lives, take place in the family home.

The home is where we learn from our parents and grandparents, teach our own children, and share our stories and hopes for the future. It is where many of our ideas and values are first kindled.

In that spirit, there is one subject I believe we have to discuss, around our family tables and across the generations.

It concerns the future, and I know the Chinese are a far-sighted people.

It concerns particularly the environment, and I know that protecting China’s rich and beautiful natural heritage is important to all Chinese families.

It is the mass destruction and trafficking of iconic endangered species;

And it is time to talk about the growing human demand for illegal wildlife products that drives the trade and makes it profitable.

Today, we face an unprecedented surge in the brutal slaughter of iconic animals by poachers.

In South Africa, for example, one rhino was killed every month until 2005.  But last year, three rhinos were killed every single day.

In the 33 years since I was born we have lost around 70 percent of Africa's elephant population. Of those that are left, 20,000 are being killed every year – that is 54 elephants killed every single day.

At this rate, children born this year – like my daughter Charlotte – will see the last wild elephants and rhinos die before their 25th birthdays.

Those who suffer the most from this loss are some of the poorest people on our planet.

They are the families who feel powerless as the wildlife around them disappear; who face being trapped in poverty forever without the income that should be brought in by tourism, a cornerstone of the economy in many developing nations.

They are the children whose parents risk their lives in the fight against poachers. In the last few days, three rangers and one member of the Armed Forces were killed by poachers in one incident in central Africa; leaving behind 14 children between them.

It is these children's future that is blighted so tragically by the illegal wildlife trade, and it is their birth right that is stolen.

There is no hiding from these facts today. On our phones, laptops and our TV screens, we can see the images and read the reports that lay bare the truth of this crisis.

That knowledge brings responsibility – the responsibility to do everything in our power to reverse the march towards the eradication of these fine animals.

The good news is that we are far from powerless in this struggle. We can turn the tide of extinction.

We know where the animals we are trying to protect live.

We know many of the roads, the airports and ports criminals use to transport their cargo from killing field to marketplace.

And over the last few years we have seen a groundswell of action by governments to improve their laws and work across borders to fight the traffickers.

Only last month President Xi announced that China will take steps to halt the domestic trade in ivory, adding to the ban on ivory carving imports he announced in February.

But we know the illegal wildlife trade cannot be solved by governments alone.

The spotlight falls back on all of us, and on the choices we have to make to play our part in addressing this problem.

We have to accept the truth that consumers are driving the demand for animal body parts, for art, for trinkets, for medicine.

Only we as consumers can put the wildlife traffickers out of business, by ending our demand for their products.

I know we can do this.

The desire to possess animal trophies, or ornaments made from ivory, has been felt on every continent for centuries.

I know this topic is sensitive for many families.

For example, until 100 years ago my ancestors were among those who had little concern about acquiring ivory, without the knowledge of the threats of extinction, corruption, and violence that the ivory trade would lead to.

My rejection of ivory today is not a judgement of past generations. It is an acceptance of the world as I find it today and the world I want my children, George and Charlotte, to inherit.

Likewise, those doctors and medical practitioners in China that are speaking out against the use of endangered species in medicine, they are not judging previous generations who did not have the facts that you do today.  They are just accepting the truth that all credible evidence and scientific research shows, for example, that rhino horn cannot cure cancer.

We have a responsibility to act on the facts we have today. By doing so we are honouring the generations that have come before us and we are protecting those that are yet to come.

I do not think that any of us would stand and watch an elephant or rhino being killed – or a ranger being gunned down – because we wanted a bracelet or an ornament to impress someone else as a gift. 

But that is what the demand for wildlife products means in practice. 

The decisions we make as consumers affect the lives of ordinary people thousands of miles away, in countries we may never visit.

If we buy illegal wildlife products, we are contributing to the extinction of whole species.

But there is good news, and if you remember one thing, I want you to remember this:  We can win this battle.

Each generation decides what it values.

Each generation can determine what we consider to be beautiful on the one hand, or unacceptable or immoral on the other.

We can act in solidarity with those fighting poaching and trafficking in their communities.

I am absolutely convinced that China can become a global leader in the protection of wildlife.

Your influence in the world means you can change the face of conservation in this century.

This would be a contribution that would go down in history, one that your great grandchildren would speak of with great pride.

The greatest inheritance we can pass on to the next generation is a safe and sustainable environment: the priceless endowment of nature.

Let us not tell our children the sad tale of how we watched as the last elephants, rhinos and tigers died out, but the inspiring story of how we turned the tide and preserved them for all humanity.

And in so doing, let us show the world that by working together we can stand up to the great challenges our planet and our families will face in the generations to come.

Xièxiè [thank you]