On Friday night, royal correspondents received a press notice from Prince Charles’s office at Clarence House. The release, which was embargoed until yesterday and officiously emblazoned with a string of conditions on broadcasters and journalists who wished to use the material, announced that Prince William and his father Prince Charles were going to release a video on Sunday urging the public to “unite for wildlife”. In the video William and Charles talk about the unprecedented levels of killing of endangered species like elephants, which are being killed at the shocking rate of 100 animals per day by the illegal wildlife trade.
The video would conclude, it was announced, with the father and son and uttering the phrase, “Let’s Unite For Wildlife” in Vietnamese, Mandarin, Swahili, Arabic and Spanish.
It was an undoubtedly well-intentioned move, and William and Charles had obviously decided that getting their message out was worth risking the inevitable criticism that they were lecturing the rest of the world. Last year, William gave up his full time job with the British military to focus full-time on conservation work, so this video, timed to coincide with a series of events and think-ins in London this week on the illegal wildlife trade, seemed a logical response. William, patron of numerous anti-poaching organisations, will be a very visible totem of the cause throughout the week.
But, even as the press releases were being sent out, and journalists were getting their first sneak peeks at the nine-minute film, extraordinarily ill-timed news was filtering out that the next day’s front page of the Sun would be carrying the story that William, accompanied by his brother Harry, had flown off to Spain for the weekend to take part in a wild boar hunt at Finca La Garganta, the Spanish estate of Britain’s richest man, the Duke of Westminster.
Social media in the UK exploded. How could William be so stupid? Wild boar may not a protected species - indeed they are regarded as a pest in much of Southern Europe where they reek terrible damage on crops and farmer’s profits – but was not the very same argument once used to justify the wholesale slaughter of elephants and tigers in Africa and Asia?
The pro-bloodspots lobby argue that without hunting of wild animals the habitats of creatures like wild boar, and in the UK wild game birds like woodcock and snipe, would not be protected by landowners, and while this is undoubtedly true, the public have made it abundantly clear that they have no time for the intricacies of this particular debate. Most people outside of the upper classes perceive the hunting and killing of wild animals purely as an animal cruelty issue, and it is worth remembering that the ‘habitat preservation’ argument is exactly the justification used by many of those who still participate in the few remaining big game hunts on private reserves in Africa, such as the one King Juan Carlos was caught going on – to hunt rhinoceros – two years ago.
It’s hard to think of an activity that could more effectively undermine the Prince’s excellent work in the field of conservation, but the truth is that this is a controversy which has been waiting to blow up for some time now.
On a trip to the same estate in Spain last year, William’s party was said to have bagged—along with numerous wild boar and deer—740 partridge between them.
That is an obscene number by anyone’s reckoning.
William’s passion for bloodsports, and his refusal to give up the hobby, sits uneasily, to say the least, with his undoubted passion for conservation.
I have written before that no-one is suggesting that William become a vegetarian. But the failure of the PR machine is shocking. It is a guiding principle of the Young Royals that—unlike their ancestors—they must be whiter than white.
Access to the best shooting in the world is one of the perks of being a royal. Unfortunately for William, if he wants to be taken seriously as an ambassador for global conservation, he is going to have to forgo it, and put his guns down.
William is expected back in the UK today.
William’s office refused to be drawn on the trip, saying only, “The Duke of Cambridge has for many years been a passionate advocate for endangered wildlife and has campaigned tirelessly to help stop the illegal poaching of rhino horn and elephant tusk. His track record in this area speaks for itself.”
Unfortunately, for many of the ordinary people in the UK who support the royal family, his track record when it comes to bloodsports is equally eloquent.