Prince Harry has come out of hiding – and he’s sporting some new scruff!
The royal, 30, has been keeping out of the spotlight since late June, when he left for Africa for a three-month-long “dream job” working with conservation efforts in Namibia after completing his 10-year-long career in the British military.
During his stay in Africa, he’s shadowing veterinarian Dr. Pete Morkel, as well as other conservationists, to curb threats to endangered species on the continent, particularly in South Africa, Tanzania and Botswana.
And as a new snap from Harry’s tenure in Africa shows, he’s certainly not shy about getting up close with the animals he’s working to help.
On August 7, Prince Harry paid a private visit to Khulula Care for Wild, a rhino conservation site in South Africa. Khulula’s manager, Petronel Nieuwoudt confirmed to PEOPLE that Prince Harry visited the center, along with Earl Grosvenor (a godfather to Prince George!). At the center, the group spent a few hours learning more about rhino conservation, joined in a round of feeding and met a few of their 20 rhinos, including a baby named Warren!
Later, Harry was able to hang with three adolescent rhinos, Mia, Manje and Venus. He particularly bonded with Manje, tickling and rubbing her during the visit, according to a statement from South African National Parks. Later on, both Harry and Grosvenor prepared a mud bath for the center’s two biggest rhinos.
“He cares as much about these rhinos just as we all do,” Anna Ryan, a University of Richmond student who is volunteering at the center, said of Harry’s visit. “It was just incredible.”
He’s only been away for six weeks, but the fifth-in-line to the throne is looking rather different, too. In snaps from the visit, he’s rocking a full beard. (Ginger, of course!)
Martin Bornman of Care for Wild Africa says that Harry’s scruff is a mark of his work in the thick of it during his time in Africa.
“He is working actively with the anti-poaching units inside the Park,” Bornman told PEOPLE. “That is why he has got the beard and everything. He had literally just come out of the bush.”
On the heels of the Cecil the lion outrage, anti-poaching efforts like Harry’s are gaining more traction than ever. Throughout his trip, Harry’s been getting close to the natural wildlife, Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Mr. Pohamba Shifeta, previously told PEOPLE. Of his visit to the center, Bornman said a highlight was Harry’s attention to the animals and those who work with them.
“What Harry seems to do, which he is really good at, is that he is very empathetic and people-focused,” Bornman said. “He wants to know a lot about the people, what they are doing and how they do it.”
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Conservation work is a cause both he and brother Prince William have long been passionate about. Wednesday, Kensington Palace – the official account for William, Harry and Princess Kate – retweeted a message about World Elephant Day.
“It is fantastic that Prince Harry is currently visiting many rhino conservation programmes across Southern Africa, raising awareness of the current poaching crisis and the huge challenges faced by the ranger teams,” Katherine Ellis, communications manager at Save the Rhino International, told PEOPLE. “We have received several positive comments from rangers on the ground in Namibia and South Africa who have been enthused about meeting the prince and are grateful for his concern toward their difficult work and willingness to get involved.”
When he returns from Africa later this year, Harry will continue devoting time to his various causes, including working with veterans by bringing his Invictus Games to Orlando, Florida, in May.
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• Reporting by PHILIP BOUCHER and MONIQUE JESSEN