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A speech by The Prince of Wales at the Windsor Polo Club on 18th February 1990

Published on 18th February 1990

Ladies and Gentlemen, at a similar event here a year ago I spoke about the problem which confronted various parts of the world, in particular Africa, in the struggle to ensure wildlife conservation.

I drew attention to the decline in the elephant population in Kenya and Uganda because of poaching since 1973 and to a drop of 50% in the elephant population in the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania in ten years. The prime reason for that was the increasing demand for ivory in the Far East which had even reached the point of being filled by slaughtering young elephants with very small tusks. I was able to point to great progress in increasing the number of elephants in the Masai Mara Game Reserve because of the measures that had been taken by Friends of Conservation. But all in all the picture remained a gloomy one.

It is a particular source of pleasure therefore now to return here to the centre of F.O.C.’s activities and to hear from Jorie Kent and her people of the great strides that have been made in the past year. The Mara has, I understand, become a safe area for the elephant. Numbers there have increased as a result of the elephant moving north from the Serengeti to seek refuge. In many other areas, the incidence of poaching has also dropped compared with a year ago. And all this had been achieved against the background of a remarkable and rapid rise in the international perception of the seriousness of the crisis which faced the future of the elephant and the rhino.

It is no exaggeration to say that as in so many other areas of international life 1989 was marked by a sudden and long overdue realisation of the gravity of the crisis and the need for rapid action. Elephant protection societies were set up throughout the developed world and of particular importance was the decision of the 7th Conference of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species to upgrade the African Elephant to a category in which trade would be prohibited. There is, I know still some debate about trade in existing and legally acquired stocks of ivory. But once these have been exhausted, this regrading represents a major move towards stopping the one human activity which has caused such a crisis for the future of the elephants and indeed has brought them to the verge of extinction.

I am also heartened by what I have heard about the lead which has been given over the last year by Friends of Conservation across a wide spectrum of conservation issues. The future of the elephant and the rhino are the high profile side of their activities. But thanks to the support of people like you gathered here today, they have also been able to involve themselves much more deeply in the infrastructure of conservation. They have done so in the most effective way possible with over 80% of their funds raised in the United States and United Kingdom going to field projects and action to respond directly to the conservation needs of Africa.

You will all have had a chance to see where your money is going. It goes to funding a radio system which assures a rapid response against poaching; it contributes to Dr. Leakey’s valuable work at the head of the new Kenya Wildlife Services; it finances the provision of more surveillance vehicles in the Mara, the Northern Serengeti and around the unique natural wildlife area of the Ngonongoro Crater; it has funded the operation of an anti-poaching camel unit in the Mara National Park; it funds vital veterinarian work, censuses of endangered species and helps to develop an educational programme both for the indigenous peoples of Africa and for our children in the developed world so that both can become aware of the astonishingly important natural resource we have to cherish and conserve.

In all this activity, however, there is one aspect to which I attach particular importance and which I know preoccupies Friends of Conservation. That is the stress they lay on contact and understanding with the tribes and peoples who have lived for generations in these areas where the wildlife is now threatened. I am sure that some of you already know how anxious I am to ensure that we do not inadvertently destroy the knowledge of the natural environment and habitat which these people hold. But more than that, I believe we should not treat their way of life as something we absurdly think we have the right and knowledge to modernise. We should understand that instead of teaching, we should be learning from these peoples. For they are the fortunate minority on the earth today who understand how to live in harmony with their natural environment. And living in harmony means both preserving and cherishing it and also benefiting and reaping advantage from it, without (and this is the crucial point) destroying it for succeeding generations. Local people often have keener insights into the intricately balanced harmony of their environments and how simultaneously to exploit and sustain that harmony.

The treatment of indigenous peoples is an issue which is particularly critical to the survival of the rainforests. But it is no less true of the work of Friends of Conservation. For it is only the tribesmen of Africa who can preserve and in many cases restore the habitat in which the species we try to protect can prosper and multiply.