As Prince Charles and Prince William take high-profile roles in a summit on the illegal trade in endangered animals, critics say their pleas are undermined by their own fondness for hunting.
With some 50,000 elephants now being killed every year across Africa to satisfy the illegal ivory trade, the princes have thrown their weight behind an international conference aimed at co-ordinating action to halt the rising tide of illegal poaching and other wildlife crime.
In a video message ahead of the summit, Prince Charles said: “Our profound belief is that humanity is less than humanity without the rest of creation. The destruction of these endangered species will dimish us all.”
Prince William, who will open the summit on Wednesday night with a speech at the National History Museum, said in the video: “This year I have become even more devoted to protecting the resources of the earth, for not only my own son, but the other children of his generation to enjoy.”
Prince William’s decision to go on a trip to hunt wild boar in Spain just days before the summit has already caused some raised eyebrows. While not illegal, such a trip has been described as “ill-timed.”
But it is his participation in grouse shooting in Scotland that has drawn accusations of hypocrisy. Wildlife experts say that areas given over to grouse shooting are also the scene of crimes against some of the UK’s most endangered birds of prey, which are equally deserving of attention as African elephants and rhino.
Dominic Dyer, of charity Care for the Wild, told Channel 4 News: “I think it’s rather hypocritical of Prince William to be addressing what is a genuine concern about global wildlife criminal activity when he’s actually not really addressing what’s happening in areas where he’s hunting in the UK, for example where you’re seeing the killing of a beautiful endangered species like the golden eagle.”
Ian Thomson, the head of investigations in Scotland for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), listed what he termed “an absolute catalogue of illegal killing of some of our most iconic birds of prey” in the Angus Glens area of the eastern highlands of Scotland in the past few years: golden eagles poisoned, white-tailed eagles poisoned.
Red kite and buzzards shot, poisoned or trapped. A white-tailed eagle nest tree chopped down.
These crimes, which Mr Thomson says are having a real impact on the populations of the birds in question, are happening in an area being intensively managed for driven grouse shooting, and he is very concerned about the future.
“The hen harrier population in Scotland has declined by 20 per cent between 2004 and 2010, and we don’t want that replicated across other species,” he said.
In 2013 hen harriers failed to breed in the UK for the first time in 60 years.
For those making their livelihoods from the grouse shooting industry, there is frustration at the current state of the law.
Alex Hogg, the chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Society, disputes the suggestion that gamekeepers are trapping birds of prey. He concedes that grouse shooting moors are a “larder” for birds of prey, and wants the government to bring in a way of removing birds them from the grouse moors “if they become a problem”.
Mr Hogg recognises that hard decisions are necessary, proposing that “if the population is too high all over the United Kingdom”, then culling of certain species may be necessary, adding: “we don’t want to cull them, we’d rather the government did it, but that would be how the system might need to work.”