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William joins Sir David Attenborough at event for Africa wildlife campaigners

Published 30/11/2016

The Duke of Cambridge sounds the warning horn on a Crossrail train during a visit to Bombardier Transportation in Derby
The Duke of Cambridge sounds the warning horn on a Crossrail train during a visit to Bombardier Transportation in Derby

The Duke of Cambridge has joined Sir David Attenborough at an awards ceremony to honour the work of conservationists in Africa also attended by the family of a British helicopter pilot killed in Tanzania.

The Tusk Conservation Awards, held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, aim to highlight ongoing and inspiring conservation work by those dedicated to protecting Africa's natural heritage.

Addressing the fourth annual ceremony, the duke spoke of the "brutal" nature of the war against poachers and said the human cost of this battle was brought home when he met the family of late helicopter pilot Roger Gower.

Mr Gower, 37, died after his aircraft was shot down by suspected elephant poachers in Tanzania in late January.

His older brother Max told the Press Association his late sibling always had a "very strong moral compass" and was unshakeable in his beliefs.

"He was out there trying to make a difference," he said.

In his speech, the duke said: "Let's remember that the illegal wildlife trade is the fourth biggest illegal trade in the world after drugs, weapons and human slavery.

"Its criminal overlords often engage in all these areas - so the bravery of our rangers and award nominees tonight should be remembered in that brutal and difficult context."

The duke said a "well-funded chain of command" was critical to ensure conservationists could do their work effectively, spanning from rangers to politicians.

William then surprised Sir David by honouring his contributions, leading to the broadcaster giving a stirring speech about the "precious" African wildlife.

A visibly caught off-guard Sir David said: "People are getting killed in the name of conservation - it's hard, it's tough, and the people represented here tonight are true heroes and heroines."

Only "a fragment" of the continent's once thriving wildlife now remained, he told a crowd which included adventurer Bear Grylls, singer Katherine Jenkins and rocker Ronnie Wood.

It came after he presented Angola's Manuel Sacaia with the Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award, in recognition of his work protecting the critically endangered giant sable antelope in the country.

During a short film, the audience heard how Mr Sacaia nearly lost a leg after it got stuck in a hunter's trap while he was out tracking the animal with a colleague.

Sir David also presented The Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa to Cathy Dreyer, whose career started 17 years ago when she developed, in her words, a "slight obsession", with the plight of the black rhino while working as a conservation student with South African National Parks.

Her work has helped establish new black rhino populations in the country, which has both the highest population of the species and also the highest rate of poaching.

Other finalists for the award included grey crowned crane advocate Dr Olivier Nsengimana and Rachel McRobb, who formed an anti-poaching and community conservation organisation in Zambia.

The duke also presented John Kahekwa, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, with a lifetime achievement award for his ongoing pursuit of a future for the Grauer's gorilla within the Congo's war zones.

Tusk has worked since 1990 to initiate and fund conservation, community development and environmental education programmes across Africa.

The event capped off a busy day for the duke, who also visited Rolls-Royce's aero engine factory on Wednesday.

William was presented with a cake modelled on one of the aerospace giant's Trent XWB engines by The Great British Bake Off star Andrew Smyth during his trip to the firm's plant in Derby.

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