Published 2 December 2015

In my view: rangers are heroes.

The Duke of Sussex

Thank you everyone for the warm welcome here this morning.

As someone who cares deeply about conservation, Africa and the protection of endangered animals, I look up to rangers with a huge amount of respect, knowing the hardships you face on a daily basis.

This summer I was able to spend several months working with you and your peers here at Kruger and in places across southern Africa. My love of Africa has never been any secret – it’s just been a huge part of my private life. I’ve always wanted to keep it like that until I had the experience of age to give something back to a place that has given me and so many others the freedom and space we all crave. This continent has given me thousands of happy memories since 1997 and for that I am indebted to it.

After a summer working alongside rangers, I now fully understand the skill you bring to your work, the sacrifices you and your families make for you to do it, and the perseverance you demonstrate every day in the face of huge challenge. To those of you graduating today can I say congratulations – you are part of a profession that cannot be appreciated enough and that is dealing with very difficult circumstances. In my view: rangers are heroes. I hope you are incredibly proud of your achievements.

Kruger is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Its animals are a huge part of South Africa's economy. Across all of Africa 80% of tourism revenue is dependent on people coming to see iconic wildlife.

But in recent years Kruger has also become a major killing field. The numbers of rhinos poached in South Africa has grown by nearly 500% in just five years, with most of these occurring in Kruger. Already this year 1,500 rhinos have been killed in this country. That is four every day. If current poaching rates continue there will be no wild African elephants or rhinos left by the time children born this year, like my niece, Charlotte, turn 25. If we let this happen, the impact on the long-term prosperity of this country and on the natural heritage of the planet will be enormous and irreversible.

Demand for rhino horn and ivory on the other side of the Earth is fuelling this carnage. Bad taste in fashion and decoration, and disproven beliefs in medicine are leading some people to covet animal products with no care for the consequences. People are willing to let a species go extinct so they can have an ivory trinket, Rhino horn doorstop or get a supposed cure for a headache.

The market value for rhino horn has grown significantly and has created a huge incentive for desperate people to risk their lives for a payday from ruthless criminal traffickers.

In the face of this, it would be easy to become despondent - but all of you here today know that we must not. We can win this battle. This is a test for all humanity and we cannot afford to fail. Nature needs us to fight her battles and in this case, protect her animals, some of which have been on this planet for tens of thousands of years.

I have seen for myself that you and your fellow rangers are doing everything in your power to turn this tide, and we must support your efforts in whatever way we can.

My brother, William, is working at a global level to encourage countries like America and China to lead the way in ending demand for ivory and rhino horn and to help African nations with the resources they need to beat the traffickers.

Next week in London, he will host a global taskforce of transportation firms, government agencies, and wildlife experts to agree an ambitious plan to shutdown global trafficking routes. William has put the fate of endangered species back on the agenda of governments, companies, and NGOs around the world. I am incredibly proud of what he is achieving and will do whatever I can to support him.

I know that here in South Africa the Government is committed to do even more to protect its animals and economy. I have heard from many of you how important the legal framework is if you are to effectively stop poachers before they strike. This should be viewed as a time of war and you need laws that are up to the challenge.

South African leadership in this regard has set an example for others to follow, just as the South African Environment Minister Edna Molewa did last week in challenging the recent court ruling that people should be allowed to buy and sell rhino horn. It’s not for me to second guess a court or the legal reasons behind its decision, but what I strongly believe is that the legalisation of rhino horn trading will accelerate the path to extinction.

In addition to stronger laws and global action to stem transport routes and reduce demand, we need to do more to help those of you on the frontline of the conservation battle. I am delighted to announce today that my brother’s United for Wildlife partnership will work with, and fund, the Southern African Wildlife College so that its graduates are equipped with the best techniques and technologies available to protect some of the world’s most endangered species.

There is no pretending that any of this will be easy. It won't be. But when we win this battle and reverse the rise in poaching, the victory will belong first and foremost to those of you here on the frontlines. So let me thank you for all you have done and all you will do.

Thank you.