The Duke of Cambridge took part in his first webinar as he renewed calls for an end to the illegal wildlife trade in light of the coronavirus crisis.
William joined a virtual meeting of the United for Wildlife Taskforces and highlighted the public health risks of the trade and the urgent need to prevent future zoonotic disease pandemics.
“Believe it or not, this is my first webinar,” he told speakers including Lord Hague of Richmond.
Members of the royal family have had to adapt to online official duties during lockdown, with even the Queen, 94, carrying out her first ever video conference call amid the pandemic restrictions.
William joined conservation experts from around the globe as the taskforce discussed the links between zoonotic diseases – which leap from animals to humans – and the wildlife trade.
He said in his speech: “Never before have the public health risks of the wildlife trade come into such sharp focus.
“Never before has there been greater public awareness about the dangers of zoonotic diseases like Ebola, Sars, Mers and Covid.
“And never before has the global incentive to act been so high.
“Right now, there is a real chance to ensure that the urgent steps that the world must take to prevent future zoonotic disease pandemics are designed in a way that also helps to eradicate the illegal wildlife trade.”
Since their formation, the @United4Wildlife Taskforces have supported over 70 law investigations, contributed to 18 trafficker arrests and played a key role in disrupting a major international ivory, rhino horn and heroin syndicate in East Africa. #EndWildlifeCrime pic.twitter.com/XQlfHUpjPk
— The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (@KensingtonRoyal) January 21, 2020
Scientists believe coronavirus may have originated in bats, and was then transmitted through another mammal such as a civet cat or an armadillo-like pangolin before being passed on to people at a fresh food market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
In an effort to block future outbreaks, China has cracked down on the trade in wildlife and closed some wet markets.
A World Health Organisation is planning a mission to investigate the origin of the Covid-19 illness.
William said the move towards the end of the illegal wildlife trade would require concerted effort from international organisations, governments, law enforcement, the NGO community and the private sector.
He added that “2020 has taken a different, heart-breaking course from what we had expected back in January”.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has ruined lives and threatened livelihoods across the world,” he said.
“It is important that we learn the lessons from this pandemic, including looking at why the outbreak happened, why it was not stopped earlier, and what can be done to manage any outbreak in the future.”
William also discussed the impact the pandemic has had on conservation, with tourism revenues dropping as a result.
“Rangers’ salaries are at risk, and there are early indications that economic hardship may be leading more people to turn to poaching,” he said.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority recorded 367 poaching incidents in its parks between February and May, more than double the same period in 2019.
William has been campaigning to protect endangered species for a number of years. He is president of umbrella group United for Wildlife, which he set up to fight the illegal trade in animal products around the world.
He has previously spoken of his fears that elephants, rhinos and tigers could be extinct in the wild before his children – Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis – reach their 20s.
Lord Hague, who chaired the event, said: “From all over the world the companies in our taskforces have shown a strong commitment to combating the illegal wildlife trade.
“Now a much greater global effort is required, not only to halt this destructive trade, but to help prevent future pandemics.”