BEIJING – Britain's Prince William highlighted his interest in wildlife conservation on the final stop of his China tour Wednesday, feeding baskets of carrots to an elephant in the country's southwest.
The second in line to the British throne visited an elephant sanctuary, where he met Ran Ran, a 13-year-old female elephant who was discovered in 2005 with a leg wound caused by an iron clamp trap. Handed carrots by the animal's keeper, William passed them to Ran Ran, who reached for more with her trunk even while her mouth was crammed full.
The visit to Yunnan province, a tropical region bordering Myanmar and Laos that has been the focus of government efforts to stop poaching and reduce conflicts between people and elephants who eat their crops, was organized for William to learn how Asian elephants are surviving in the wild in China.
There are about 250 wild Asian elephants in China, all in Yunnan, according to the province's forestry administration.
The prince, who is patron and president of British charities that campaign against the illegal trade in ivory, also met villagers in Xishuangbanna prefecture to hear how they are adapting to living in close proximity to wild elephants.
William, who regularly speaks out against wildlife trafficking, was expected to bring up the plight of African elephants, tens of thousands of which have been slaughtered in recent years to meet a surging appetite for ivory in Asia, primarily China.
Last week, China banned ivory imports for one year in the hope that it would help reduce the demand for African tusks and protect wild elephants. There is still no ban on the ivory trade within the country, and conservationists say legal sales provide cover for a thriving black market.
William told President Xi Jinping on Monday that he hopes China can become a world leader in the field of wildlife conservation, according to China's official Xinhua News Agency. During their meeting, Xi explained China's policies and work protecting elephants and other wild animals and told the prince that he hopes to strengthen international cooperation in this field.
William arrived in China on Sunday after a four-day trip to Japan. In Beijing, he met Chinese political leaders as well as young people from disadvantaged backgrounds — another issue close to his heart.
He crossed over into the business world in Shanghai and met entrepreneurs while launching a festival to promote British creativity and innovation.
William was scheduled to fly back to Britain on Wednesday night.