Even when I was a child, the question troubled me. How come Prince Philip was the president of the World Wildlife Fund (as it then was)? I thought the fund was about saving animals, but the prince liked nothing better than to blast them into the next dimension.
When the Duke of Edinburgh became president, it was only 20 years since he’d been on a tiger shoot – although the resulting carcass was disappointingly small and so Philip and his fellow hunters had to make up for it by also dispatching a female rhino, driving her inconvenient baby away from its mother’s corpse.
In 1996 he declared that shooting was “an intelligent leisure activity” for children. It didn’t make sense to me then, and it doesn’t make sense to me now, especially since Philip’s son, Prince Charles, has become UK president of the World Wide Fund for Nature, despite happily killing 50 wild boar in a single day’s hunting.
Charles and Philip would probably argue that, as presidents of the WWF, the only thing that matters is that they are helping endangered species to survive. Just last week, The Prince of Wales and his son Prince William made an impassioned plea to the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference, to put a stop to poaching once and for all. “In the past ten years, 62 per cent of African forest elephants have been lost,” said Charles. “If this rate continues, the forest elephant will be extinct within ten years. A rhinoceros is killed every 11 hours. As recently as 100 years ago, there were as many as 100,000 wild tigers living in Asia. Today, there are believed to be fewer than 3,200 left in the wild.”
Thought-provoking stuff, especially when you realise that William and his brother Harry, sitting beside their father and looking suitably serious and concerned, had only just got back from a shooting holiday in Spain, where they had been slaughtering wild boar and stags right, left and centre.
Naturally, the princes hadn’t been killing anything endangered – then again, neither had their noble forebears, when they went tiger hunting. The term “endangered” is just another way of saying a species has had a little too much contact with humans. It’s worth remembering that the dodo wasn’t always extinct. If Charles really wants to practise what he preaches, he should have said to the conference: “It’s fine to kill any animal you like, until they start getting really difficult to find. Then you should probably stop.”
To be quite honest, I understand the poachers more than I understand the princes. The poachers are murdering for financial gain. It’s wrong, but it’s comprehensible. The princes are murdering for personal thrill and I can’t get my head around that concept, in any way at all. I think most ordinary people have difficulty fathoming the hunting mindset, especially since many of us take great pride in having seen the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act become law.
Sometimes, killing is called “culling”, like it’s not such a bad thing. I understand the logic of culling, I just disagree with it, as I rather suspect that most culls happen only because the animals get in the way of humans. After all, Mother Nature managed to sort out the population balance perfectly well before mankind came along and messed it all up.
Now William has also expressed a wish to destroy all ivory artefacts in the Royal Collection, perhaps without understanding two rather important things: 1) The Royal Collection is held in trust for the nation, so it’s not his to destroy and 2) it’s quite possible that if he does, he will actively drive up ivory prices.
I think William is confused, and I don’t blame him. I’m confused, too. He kills animals; but he wants to save animals. So that must mean he only wants to save certain animals. Like the ones his grandad used to kill.
William and Harry want to be seen as the future of the monarchy; modern princes; champions of all things eco-friendly; but they have been brought up to believe that an outdated and discredited lifestyle is normal. They may be the new generation of Windsors, but they were raised by the old. Brian May, the Queen guitarist, has likened the princes’ attitude to that of 19th-century slave owners, picking and choosing which forms of life deserve their compassion and which don’t. It’s a stark analogy, but it’s not unfair.
William, you may be king one day, so you need to realise how archaic and bizarre your behaviour seems to the average UK citizen. Next time you’re mixing with your subjects, try asking them these questions: Hands up who goes on holiday to kill things? Hands up who kills things on a regular basis and enjoys it so much, it’s their favourite form of relaxation? Now, hands up who thinks that if you kill things for fun, you have the right to harangue other people about killing things for money?
At the end of this little quiz, I think you’ll find you’re the only one left with your hand in the air – unless your brother, father, or grandfather are there, of course. But if you want to be the figurehead for 21st-century Britain, you can’t continue to follow the unacceptable behaviour patterns of your predecessors. Being your mother’s son, you probably imagined that if you got sufficiently touchy, feely and down with the kidz, we wouldn’t notice you were actually a throwback to the days of the Raj. But that’s exactly what you are, and all the organic, oaten, vegetarian, egg-free, soya-free biscuits in your dad’s duchy won’t change the fact that you love killing for killing’s sake.