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November 26, 2014 06:00 PM

Prince William is giving thanks to the people he believes are the unsung heroes fighting in his corner in the campaign to stop the extinction of wildlife.

At the annual Tusk Conservation Awards, run by his charity Tusk Trust, William, 32, celebrated two leading conservationists working in the continent.

Herizo Andrianandrasana, 40, was given the award for Conservation in Africa. He grew up on the island of Madagascar and “having witnessed first-hand the huge environmental challenges facing his country, his response has been to pioneer the empowerment of local communities to conserve the natural environments they depend on,” Tusk says.

He started his working life by studying the Ploughshare tortoise, his favorite animal, in Baly Bay. “It is one of the rarest tortoises in the world and it is a victim of illegal international trafficking, he tells PEOPLE.

“Some have gone to China mainly for pets. It is a battle, but we will win in the end.”

Now, he’s a driving force in monitoring deforestation, working for Durrell.org and engaging with local communities in one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet.

He hopes William will come to Madagascar, and bring wife Kate and his young family with him one day, and see the work for himself.

William “looks very passionate about the wildlife conservation in Africa. He asks a lot of questions about what are the main challenges, how can we mitigate these pressures and he is very keen to visit Madagascar,” Andrianandrasana says.

“I think if he goes to Madagascar he will take his family, he tells PEOPLE.

Andrianandrasana adds, “In Madagascar we keep blaming the poor local communities for being responsible for the deforestation.”

“But I have come to realize the rich people, the well-resourced individuals use the poor and the poor get blamed and the rich get the benefits.”

Receiving the Prince William Award for Conservation for “his steadfast commitment to the promotion of wildlife conservation in Kenya,” was Richard Bonham, who is the co-founder of Big Life, which works to protect the wildlife of east Africa.

The son of a game warden, Bonham, 60, has been involved with wildlife all his working life. “I was born in Kenya and I learned [about conservation] on my dad’s knee,” he tells PEOPLE. “My life was involved in conservation and then I was in the safari business, and now been working in conservation business for 25 years.”

Bonham says they’ve “made inroads into turning around the situation for carnivores. They were on the brink of extinction and we now have a growing lion population.”

William is key to highlighting the underlying pressures, such as the high price of ivory and consumer demand for it in Asia, that fuel the trade in wildlife parts, Bonham says. “The role he will play, and is playing, to draw attention to that and get international pressure to put serious legislation in place is key.”

The conservationist praises the Prince’s new campaign to raise the profile of rangers caught in the middle.

He adds of William, “It gives us a lot of heart when you see his commitment. There’s nothing much that’s going on there that he’s not on top of.”

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