WASHINGTON (AP) — In his first visit to Washington, Britain's Prince William on Monday sharply denounced the rapid growth of illegal wildlife trading worldwide and announced a task force to examine the transportation industry's role in facilitating such crimes.
The Duke of Cambridge described wildlife trafficking as "one of the most insidious forms of corruption and criminality" where networks of gangs profit from the illegal killing or capture of animals.
"Together, they loot our planet to feed mankind's ignorant craving for exotic pets, trinkets, cures and ornaments derived from the world's vanishing and irreplaceable species," William said at an anti-corruption conference at the World Bank.
Citing statistics from Interpol, the international police organization, William said recent seizures of illegal wildlife products were the largest the agency has seen. In 2011, the 17 biggest seizures by customs agents resulted in 27,000 kilograms of ivory, equivalent to the tusks of some 3,000 elephants.
William said his interest in the issue stems from his father's and grandfather's longtime passion for wildlife conservation. The prince is president of "United for Wildlife," a coalition of seven global conservation groups that will organize the new task force.
The task force, which will include representatives from the transportation industry, will gather data on illegal wildlife trade routes and commission research. It will also call on companies to adopt a "zero-tolerance" policy on such trading and develop industry recommendations within a year.
Former British foreign secretary William Hague will lead the task force.
"Our collective goal must be to reduce the wildlife trade by making it harder: denying traffickers access to transportation, putting up barriers to their illegal activities and holding people accountable for their actions," William said.
The Duke of Cambridge spoke for about 15 minutes at the World Bank after meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House.
Despite near-freezing temperatures, a crowd of about 60 people gathered outside World Bank headquarters in downtown Washington to catch of glimpse of the prince's arrival. He was greeted by World Bank President Jim Kim, who escorted William inside where hundreds of employees met the prince with cheers and camera flashes.
After his speech, William attended a private lunch with Hague, officials from the World Bank, the Royal Foundation, USAID and various conservation groups before heading back to New York.