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A speech by The Duke of Cambridge at the Tusk Trust 25th Anniversary dinner

Published 21 May 2015

Against a harrowing and sometimes soul-destroying backdrop, Tusk and its partners continue to build an amazing portfolio of projects, investing in grassroots conservation in Africa to help tackle this insidious trade.

The Prince of Wales

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.  It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to Windsor Castle for this very special birthday evening.  It is quite amazing to see how many people are actually here, all of you longstanding friends of what I like to think of is the S.A.S. of conservation organisations small, nimble, focused, effective, and astonishing in its outcomes. That sounds distinctly like I'm describing Charlie Mayhew but I'm not. 

I am hugely proud to be Royal Patron of Tusk Trust, a position I've now had for ten years longer than any other position I've held bar one.  My interest in Tusk was first piqued by a Christmas Appeal that the Sunday Telegraph newspaper ran for the charity.  Tusk's aim then, as now, hit me as being something unusual and something worth backing.  As much as I love the great charismatic animals that roam Africa, the elephants, rhino, lions and so on, it is the people of Africa who must be cared for too. And Tusk spoke for both the people and the wildlife when it recognized that one group flourishes only when the other does.

Finding ways for humans and wildlife to live successfully alongside one another was always going to be the only way to ensure these animals' survival in their African habitats.  And Tusk has made clear that, in turn, the animals' survival would lead to greater prosperity for African people.

Charlie Mayhew and Tim Ackroyd  were inspired to found Tusk by their passion for wildlife and their dismay at the horrors of the ivory trade. They understood the serious damage the trade was doing to the livelihoods of thousands of people.  Their first project was a film, 'Lost in Africa', and from this point on, Tusk Trust went from strength to strength. 

Tusk has raised £25m in 25 years in support of over 100 projects, protecting 36 different endangered and critically endangered species.  They have built and refurbished 30 schools, now attended by over 72,000 children.  Tusk has supported 450 game guards in 30 conservancies; and through all this, Tusk has protected a total land mass of 9 million hectares the equivalent to nearly 40 per cent of the land mass of the United Kingdom.   I could go on.  But one of the many remarkable things about Tusk is that they have achieved all of this with a devoted and unrelenting staff of only 10 the very picture of total dedication.

In that I pay particular tribute to both Tim and Charlie for their vision and for making that vision the successful reality it is today. Of course, Charlie and the team have not done it alone. I am delighted to see so many of Tusk's project partners here this evening and two particular legends of African conservation Tony Fitzjohn and Iain Douglas Hamilton.  It's also great to see Tico and Lesley McNutt who had to put up with my brother and me staying with them in the Okavango in Botswana five years ago.

Tusk's story, of course, does not end with it's twenty-fifth birthday - far from it, in fact.  The plunder and destruction of Africa’s natural endowment remains one of the greatest challenges facing the world and it is growing worse by the week. Over the last 100 years, the abundance of the world’s species has decreased by almost a third.   But the picture in the last few years has seen a genuinely unprecedented rise in the numbers of animals being slaughtered for their body parts.  . 

With the illegal trade on the rise, our response to it must rapidly evolve.  The time for words has long gone we must see action.  And we must do so with urgency. There is no doubt that strong political leadership and real, sustained commitment from the international community is the key. 

Momentum seems to be building.  African leaders met in Kasane, Botswana, in March to take a further stand together against the plunder of their resources and to improve ways of providing better on-the-ground protection.  I am also immensely encouraged by the steps being taken in so-called demand States such as China and Vietnam, who have both pledged to do more.  By the way, at this juncture it is worth pointing out that we in the West are hardly immune to criticism, since the trades exist here, too. 

International cooperation is our strongest defence and all of this is a step in the right direction, but there is so much more to do.

This is where the crucial diplomacy carried out by Tusk is so important, as they who work tirelessly on the ground often behind the scenes to help address this complex and multi-faceted problem.

Against a harrowing and sometimes soul-destroying backdrop, Tusk and its partners continue to build an amazing portfolio of projects, investing in grassroots conservation in Africa to help tackle this insidious trade.   For example, as I speak, an ambitious translocation of 30 rhinos is currently taking place in Kenya to populate the Sera Rhino Sanctuary the first tribal community-owned sanctuary of its kind in Africa.  Such projects would not be possible without a group of incredible people a number of whom are here in this room who dedicate their lives to conservation, often for very little recognition.

Two years ago we established the Tusk Conservation Awards to give recognition to the unsung heroes of conservation, and I am pleased the inaugural winners Clive, Tom and Alasdair are all able to join us this evening.  This year, we will also introduce a new award to recognize the extraordinary bravery and commitment of Wildlife Rangers, who put their lives on the frontline in the battle to save our wildlife.

You only have to watch the film we just saw to witness the unquestioning and selfless dedication of so many people to this cause.  But also to see the real impact your support for Tusk has.  And please don’t give up supporting Tusk your financial contributions, your time, your advocacy all make a difference.  Please, please keep going.

There are many people to thank for their generosity, but for tonight I will single out only Tusk's longstanding supporters Artemis Investment Managementl, for underwriting the occasion; and Justerini & Brooks for providing the delicious wine.   They've chosen vintages that encourage generous donations, so please don't prove them wrong.

Thank you to all of you who have travelled many miles to be here from our kind Tusk USA guests who have flown across the Pond, and to those who have made the trip from Africa.

And finally, to all of you who have so generously contributed in your own way to Tusk's success these past 25 years, I simply cannot thank you enough.  

I hope you have a wonderful evening.  And to Tusk Trust, I invite everyone to stand and to raise a glass in grateful celebration of 25 years ...

Happy Birthday, Tusk.
y The Duke of Cambridge at the Tusk Trust 25th Anniversary dinner