Prince William Shines A Light On Tusk’s Heroes

The atmosphere was nothing short of electric this past September, as guests and nominees arrived at the Royal Society in London for a black-tie dinner to celebrate the Tusk Conservation Awards. Though it must be said the international press corps gathered at the entrance to this most esteemed venue were, perhaps like many of those attending, most eager to see the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on what was their first official public appearance since the birth of their son, George.

But despite the attention focused on the young couple, both Prince William, who has been Royal Patron of Tusk since 2005, and his wife were keen to keep the focus on the extraordinary group of individuals who were being honoured for their commitment to conservation in Africa.

“The idea of the Tusk Awards arose during an informal chat with Prince William, who immediately gave the initiative his full blessing and support,” said Charlie Mayhew, Tusk’s founder and CEO.

“Like us, he saw the need to shine a spotlight on the unsung heroes of conservation and recognise the remarkable work they do right across Africa.”

It was a sentiment shared by everyone who attended the dinner, from rock stars like the Rolling Stone’s Ronnie Wood and Dire Straits bass guitarist John Illsley to adventurer, author and NBC special Correspondent Ben Fogel to the Presidents of Gabon and Nigeria. All eyes were on the nominees.

“The entire experience has been surreal. To travel to London on a whirlwind two day trip, meet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as well as the President of Gabon who was super interested in our work, was just incredible,” said nominee Kerri Volter, founder of the Vulture Conservation Programme in South Africa.

“I was in awe of being short-listed as one of the five nominees and almost dazed by the experience and opportunities that this has brought to me both personally and professionally.”

Africa has for many years been of important significance to Prince William who, in a recent documentary aired on CNN, spoke both candidly and emotionally about his love of and deep commitment to the continent.

“For me, it’s a sense of freedom, being out in the middle of nowhere in Africa,” Prince William said. “Seeing the beauty of nature and the natural world is just phenomenal.”

Tragically, however, this natural world – Africa’s natural heritage – is under siege, with tens of thousands of elephants and more than 700 rhino killed this year alone for their ivory and horn.

“It is unfathomable to imagine a world where children who have been born in the past couple of months may grow up in a world in which rhinoceros have ceased to live in the wild,” said Prince William.

The work of the five finalists, chosen from dozens of remarkable men and women nominated, varied greatly from working to save the critically endangered Sifaka Lemur to protecting the fragile ecosystem around Mount Kenya.

Dr Alasdair Harris, founder and research director of Blue Ventures Conservation, received the Highly Commended prize for his work with communities along the Madagascar coast, protecting marine biodiversity and safeguarding traditional coastal livelihoods.

“I’m thrilled that the critical importance of marine protection is being recognised in this way. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are both keen SCUBA divers, and are concerned about the grave threats facing Africa’s coasts and oceans today,” said Harris.

“Needless to say, I emphasised the importance of Prince George learning to dive, preferably in Madagascar, as early as possible.”

On the night, the Tusk Award for Conservation went to Tom Lalampaa – regally clad in traditional Samburu dress – for helping to create the Northern Rangelands Trust, a three million acre conservancy recognized as a leading model for community conservation in Kenya. It is a project Tusk has supported since its inception nearly twenty years ago.

“It was incredibly difficult to choose the winners as they are all so deserving of recognition,” said Charlie Mayhew. “We very much hope that the international media spotlight the Tusk Awards brought upon each of the winners and the short listed nominees will help raise the profile of their amazing work and enable them to attract even more support for their efforts in the field.”

Toward the end of the evening, Prince William presented a very special award for lifetime achievement – The Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa – to Clive Stockil from Zimbabwe.

Deeply committed to the conservation of endangered wildlife, as well as a tireless champion of some of Africa’s poorest and most disenfranchised people, Stockil has, for forty years, successfully empowered and educated rural communities to manage and benefit from conservation and wildlife tourism.

“In Africa, aesthetic values are a luxury. If we as humans are to share this space and achieve environmental and species conservation, we all have to participate in the process,” said Stockil. “Communities are part of the system, without their support conservation of natural resources will fail.”

Speaking passionately about the work undertaken by all the nominees, and the need – more than ever, perhaps – to support conservation in Africa, Prince William ended the evening on a positive note, saying there was reason to be optimistic.

“Our hope manifests itself in the form of the proud faces you’ve seen tonight receiving their awards.”

It was a feeling echoed amongst the guests, who all remarked on how moving and inspirational the evening had been, how the projects were extraordinary and the nominees truly heroic.

Perhaps none more so than nominee Edwin Kinyanjui.

“I am thankful for the Tusk Conservation Awards. Through its encouragement and recognition, future generations will have something to be proud of. It is my joy that the future King, George, will not only see snow-capped Mount Kenya, but will also hear elephants trumpeting as they roam freely.”

It is unfathomable to imagine a world where children who have been born in the past couple of months may grow up in a world in which rhinoceros have ceased to live in the wild. Prince WilliaM

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