Britain's Prince William on Wednesday urged Vietnamese leaders to step up the fight against trafficking in wildlife species, the main theme of his first visit to the communist country.

The Duke of Cambridge, who is president of United for Wildlife, met Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Vice President Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh on Wednesday before attending a two-day conference on illegal wildlife trade starting Thursday in Hanoi.

"During his call on the prime minister, the Duke spoke about the strength of the relationship between the United Kingdom and Vietnam and said he was looking forward to hearing what Vietnam was doing to tackle the challenges presented by the illegal wildlife trade," the prince's office said in a statement Wednesday.

It said "the Duke will engage with a wide cross section of Vietnamese society in order to encourage the work of local people to stamp out the use of things like rhino horn."

Vietnam is one of the world's major transit points and consumers of trafficked ivory and rhino horns, which people mistakenly believe can be used a cancer cure. On Saturday, authorities destroyed 2.2 tons (4,900 pounds) of seized elephant ivory and rhino horns in a bid to stamp out trafficking.

The official Vietnam News Agency quoted Prime Minister Phuc as telling William that Vietnam had paid great attention to raising awareness among the public about wildlife conservation and severe punishments were handed down.

It quoted William as telling Phuc that the fight to protect endangered wildlife is a transnational and urgent issue and that the government plays a crucial role in ensuring its success.