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Royals

How Prince William Came to Love Wildlife

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Anthony Devlin/PA Photos/Abaca

He has called Africa his “second home,” he proposed to his wife there and even decorated his firstborn’s nursery in an African theme. And on Monday, Prince William took his passion for wildlife protection all the way to Washington, D.C.

A slightly anxious William addressed attendees at the International Corruption Hunters Alliance Conference at the World Bank, where he announced the formation of a task force to combat wildlife trafficking.

Shaking off the nerves, the expectant father grew emphatic as he reached the conclusion of his speech: “I am determined not to let the world’s children grow up on a planet where our most iconic and endangered species have been wiped out.”

An attendee at the luncheon praised the Duke of Cambridge’s address, telling PEOPLE: “Prince William spoke with great passion and knowledge about this issue. He is clearly very committed to ending the scourge of global wildlife trafficking.”

The issue has long been an important one for William. Since 2005, he’s been a patron of the Tusk Trust, a charity dedicated to “funding conservation, community development and environmental education programs across Africa.” It’s one of the first charities he chose to lend his support to, following in the steps of his father and grandfather before him.

William’s love of Africa dates back even further. The Duke of Cambridge took a gap year in 2001, part of which he spent in Kenya doing conservation work.

“Africa is my second home,” he said in footage filmed for a Sky1 documentary in 2010. “When I step off the plane I’m like, ‘Yes, I’m back.’ ”

Part of the appeal is, of course, the anonymity. As one of the most recognizable people on the planet, William has admitted he enjoys the privacy the continent offers.

“The locals haven’t a clue who I am, and I love that,” he has said.

Prince William and Princess Kate in 2010
Mario Testino/Reuters

He loves it so much that, in 2010, William proposed to the love of his life in a remote cabin on the side of Mount Kenya, carrying his mother’s 18-carat sapphire ring in a rucksack with him while he waited for the perfect moment to pop the question.

“I literally would not let it go,” he said. “I knew this thing, if it disappeared, I’d be in a lot of trouble.”

“It was really romantic, a wonderful holiday in Africa,” Kate said of the proposal.

And when the couple welcomed their first child, Prince George, in July 2013, they revealed plans for an Africa-themed nursery.

“I’ll have toy elephants and rhinos around the room,” William told CNN. “We’ll cover it in, you know, lots of bushes and things like that. [We’ll] make him grow up as if he’s in the bush.”

Just a few short months after George’s birth, William launched United for Wildlife, a charity initiative that fosters cooperation among seven conservation organizations. His goal? To inspire a new generation of wildlife supporters.

“We must work together to prevent this catastrophe and allow our children the opportunity to experience wildlife in its many beautiful and varied forms,” he said in a statement at the time.

William’s passion has inspired a number of other celebrities to join forces with him. David Beckham is one of the charity’s ambassadors, as are tennis player Andy Murray and motor racing driver Lewis Hamilton.

“This is an example of how William can use his position to draw in the support of all these amazing names,” said the chief executive of the Tusk Trust, Charlie Mayhew. “He recognizes that he is in a unique position to do so.”

It is through this charity and the newly created task force that William hopes to bring attention – and hopefully an end – to wildlife trafficking.

“Illegal wildlife trade thrives because it is hidden,” he has said. “We wanted to find a way to show the world what was happening.”

Learn more about the wildlife charities that William supports below:

United for Wildlife: A group of seven of the world’s most influential conservation organizations united to end illegal wildlife trade.

Tusk Trust: A British non-profit organization dedicated to helping protect African wildlife.

Reporting by SIMON PERRY and SANDRA SOBIERAJ WESTFALL