The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attended the Tusk Conservation Awards last night in London, honouring people who work to preserve Africa’s natural heritage.
The Tusk Conservation Awards was first held in 2013 – also attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – and is meant to “shine a light on the incredible work of individual conservationists; to inspire, encourage and support their work, and the efforts of others across the continent,” according to its website.
Three major awards are presented each year: The Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award, the Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa, and the lifetime achievement Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa.
The winner of this year’s Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award is Julius Obwona, a Ugandan ranger who tracks heavily-armed elephant poachers with his team.
The Tusk Conservation Awards website notes that “By 2017 Julius and his team had removed 24 tonnes of snares from the Murchinson Delta reducing the ‘three elephants a day’ formerly being seen in traps to around three a month. Dozens of AK47’s, 100’s of rounds of ammunition and 700 poachers’ boats were decommissioned. His leadership has led to the prosecution of 720 suspects involved in wildlife-related crimes.”
The Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa was awarded to Vincent Opyene, who established the National Resource Conservation Network in Uganda to investigate wildlife trafficking and corruption.
The Tusk Conservation Award website notes that Vincent risks his life daily “to combat wildlife trafficking and to bring criminals to justice. His persistent, silent, unique work behind the scenes to address wildlife crime on the street and in the courtroom is making a real and significant difference.”
The Prince William Award for Conservation was presented to Dr Pete Morkel, a world-renowned wildlife veterinarian and rhino conservation expert.
Dr. Morkel has dedicated the last 35 years of his life to wildlife in Africa, and the Tusk Conservation Awards website notes that he is “the go-to person for wildlife capture in some of Africa’s most rugged and difficult environments. He has pioneered methodology for immobilising forest elephant on foot, and worked with species such as giant sable, giant eland and Nubian giraffe.”
Prince William delivered a speech, noting that, “As ever, I am inspired and humbled by the sheer dedication and commitment that our 2018 nominees have demonstrated. It never ceases to amaze me how they achieve so much against the odds and with so few resources.”
He spoke about his recent visit to Namibia and Tanzania in support of Tusk:
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to visit Namibia and Tanzania to see some programmes that Tusk supports for myself.
In Namibia it was fantastic to see desert rhino roaming freely in the beautiful, Mars-like landscape of the Kunene Region. Even if Charlie Mayhew did make me get up at 5am and take a 5-hour round trip to see a rhino for only 30 seconds.
I met many Namibian conservationists who are doing inspiring work in Kunene to increase the benefits for local communities. It was music to my ears to hear the women and elders of the People’s Park Initiative describe wildlife as an important economic asset that they had to protect for generations to come.
And in Tanzania, I saw how Mkomazi, a once decimated game reserve, has been successfully rehabilitated into a National Park. Mkomazi’s vibrant outreach programme is teaching school children from neighbouring communities to respect and protect the magnificent wildlife and habitats on their doorstep.
This sort of work on the front-line remains crucial if we are to succeed in protecting the world’s iconic and endangered species.
And he spoke about the need to do more, saying that, “Our own survival is reliant on our ability to reverse the terrifying decline in the world’s biodiversity. Modern human society as we know it depends on natural resources to thrive and survive.
“Two years ago, at this event, Sir David Attenborough warned that man is losing his own connection with nature. We must act now. The clock is ticking towards a tipping point when the impact of what we are doing will become dangerously irreversible.”