William honours Africa environmental campaigners at awards ceremony

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The Duke of Cambridge has joined renowned wildlife broadcaster Sir David Attenborough at an awards ceremony to praise frontline champions of conservation in Africa.

The Tusk Conservation Awards, held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, aim to highlight ongoing and inspiring conservation work by those dedicated to protecting Africa's natural heritage.

The Duke, who became royal patron of Tusk in December 2005, attended a reception before the event began, mingling amongst guests including adventurer Bear Grylls and singer Katherine Jenkins.

Also present were finalists for The Tusk Award for Conservation, an accolade which honours "a new leader" in the field.

This year's finalists include black rhino champion Cathy Dreyer, grey crowned crane advocate Dr Olivier Nsengimana and Rachel McRobb, who formed an anti-poaching and community conservation organisation in Zambia.

It comes after the Duke travelled to Kenya earlier this year with the organisation and United for Wildlife to work with frontline rangers striving to protect rhino and elephant populations.

The 34-year-old will present a lifetime achievement award, The Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa, and give a speech at the ceremony on Wednesday evening.

Sir David presented Angola's Manuel Sacaia with the Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award, in recognition of his work protecting the critically endangered giant sable antelope in the country.

During a short film, the audience heard how Mr Sacaia nearly lost a leg after it got stuck in a hunter's trap while he was out tracking the animal with a colleague.

Sir David also presented The Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa to Ms Dreyer, whose career started 17 years ago when she developed, in her words, a "slight obsessions", with the plight of the black rhino while working as a conservation student with South African National Parks.

Her work has helped establish new black rhino populations in the country, which has both the highest population of the species and also the highest rate of poaching.

Rocker Ronnie Wood also attended ceremony, which was hosted by journalist Kate Silverton.

Addressing the ceremony, the Duke spoke of the "brutal" nature of the war against poachers and said the human cost of this battle was brought home when he met the family of late British helicopter pilot Roger Gower.

Mr Gower, 37, died after his aircraft was shot down by suspected poachers in Tanzania in late January.

The Duke said: "Let's remember that the illegal wildlife trade is the fourth biggest illegal trade in the world after drugs, weapons and human slavery.

"Its criminal overlords often engage in all these areas - so the bravery of our rangers and award nominees tonight should be remembered in that brutal and difficult context."

He said a "well-funded chain of command" was critical to ensure conservationists could do their work effectively, spanning from rangers to politicians.

William then surprised Sir David by honouring his contribution to conservation, leading to the broadcaster giving a stirring impromptu speech about the "precious" African wildlife.

Sir David said: "People are getting killed in the name of conservation - it's hard, it's tough, and the people represented here tonight are true heroes and heroines."

The Duke also presented John Kahekwa, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, with a lifetime achievement award for his ongoing pursuit of a future for the Grauer's gorilla within the Congo's war zones.

Tusk chief executive Charlie Mayhew praised the Duke's "unwavering commitment" to the organisation and its aims.

Tusk has worked since 1990 to initiate and fund conservation, community development and environmental education programmes across Africa.

The event capped off a busy day for the Duke, who also visited Rolls-Royce's aero engine factory on Wednesday.

William was presented with a cake modelled on one of the aerospace giant's Trent XWB engines by The Great British Bake Off star Andrew Smyth during his trip to the firm's plant in Derby.