LONDON, Oct 4 (Reuters) – Britain’s Prince William on Tuesday paid tribute to South African game ranger Anton Mzimba, who was assassinated in July, and spoke of his “much-missed grandmother” Queen Elizabeth as he called for action to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, saying it was destroying lives and endangering too many species.
In his first speech since being made Prince of Wales, following the queen’s death last month, William told the United for Wildlife Global Summit how he had been inspired to care about the environment by his father, now King Charles, and his grandparents, Elizabeth and her late husband Prince Philip.
“Our natural world is one of our greatest assets. It is a lesson I learnt from a young age, from my father and grandfather, both committed naturalists in their own right, and also from my much-missed grandmother, who cared so much for the natural world,” William said.
“In times of loss, it is a comfort to honour those we miss through the work we do,” he told the summit at London’s Science Museum where 300 leading figures from the private sector, conservation organisations and law enforcement had gathered.
William, who has campaigned for some years on the issue, said the world did not have the “luxury of time” to combat the illegal trade which is estimated by United for Wildlife to be worth up to $20 billion annually and is linked to violent crime, corruption and trafficking.
“There are still too many criminals who believe they can act with impunity, too many lives being destroyed, and too many species on the brink of extinction due to this heinous crime,” he said.
William paid tribute to Anton Mzimba, a ranger who was shot dead at a nature reserve in South Africa in July (and who recently received a posthumous award for his incredible work for wildlife).
“The devastating news about Ranger Anton Mzimba is shocking confirmation of how vicious the illegal wildlife trade is,” he said.
“He stood up to violent criminals and paid the ultimate price. It is only right that we pay tribute to him and all the other selfless rangers and frontline conservationists here
Two weeks ago Anton was posthumously awarded the Best Game Ranger award at the prestigious African Conservation Awards ceremony in Botswana.
Anton began his career at Timbavati Private Nature Reserve as a general worker in the mid 90s where he fixed roads, built gabions, maintained fences and completed the daily tasks required of a general labourer. He always strived to be a ranger and over the next 25 years, Anton rose through the ranks, progressing from ranger to Corporal, Sergeant, and finally becoming Head of Ranger Services at Timbavati.
Besides the numerous accolades and press, Anton’s greatest gift was his ability to lead and inspire the people from the local communities that border Kruger National Park. Anton led by example, working to change the stigma that conservation was a wealthy minority’s privilege, and instead a birthright to all of humanity, from all backgrounds, races and cultures. He believed in developing his team and wanted both local men and women to have the opportunity to climb the ranks into leadership roles.
On 26th July 2022, Anton was assassinated outside his home by three gunmen alleged to be linked to poaching syndicates, paying the ultimate sacrifice for being a ranger and a leader on the front lines of the rhino poaching war.
At the time of Anton’s death, Prince William tweeted: “I’m deeply saddened to learn of the killing of Anton Mzimba who I spoke to in November. Committed and brave, rangers like Anton are central to the conservation of Africa’s fantastic wildlife. Those responsible must swiftly be brought to justice. My thoughts are with his family. W”
(Reporting by Michael Holdend/Reuters and Jenni Baxter/SAPeople; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Jenni Baxter)