Agencies/Kaziranga National Park
Britain’s Prince William and Princess Kate jumped into a jeep yesterday for a wildlife safari that included feeding rhino and elephant calves, during the latest leg of their India tour.
The royal couple, wearing handwoven gamochas or scarves that are traditional in the northeastern Assam state, also met wildlife officials who are battling to protect vulnerable rhinos from poachers.
In their open-top jeep convoy, the Duke and Duchess, sporting sunglasses, looked relaxed as they navigated the World Heritage listed Kaziranga National Park, home to two-thirds of the planet’s remaining one-horned rhinos.
Kate, wearing a long pink and black printed dress and with giant milk bottle in hand, later fed the calves, at the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation at Borjuri, bordering the park, smiling and patting them as they slurped the liquid down.
“They had a lot of questions about the wildlife situation in the country,” said conservationist Rita Banerji, who met them at the park.
“This visit by the royal couple will definitely help in grabbing attention of a global audience to the threats that endangered species face,” Banerji said.
The conservation centre provides emergency care and rehabilitation to wild animals in the park that have been injured, orphaned or displaced.
William and Kate also visited the Kaziranga Discovery Centre run by the non-profit Elephant Family founded by conservationist Mark Shand, brother of Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall and William’s stepmother.
The couple visited the health clinic for elephants and saw the information centre before interacting with villagers relocated by the charity to keep them out of a path followed by elephants across the forest.
They painted colours and butterflies on an elephant statue at the centre to highlight a call for artists across India to participate in the Elephant Family’s elephant parade programme.
The parade would see 200 elephant statues decorated by artists placed across India to raise awareness about the animal and the need for its protection. Similar parades have been held in London, Edinburgh and New York.
“We felt good when the prince came to the park. We are lucky to interact with the prince,” said forest ranger Salim Ahmad, adding that William had asked about the problems faced in the park and anti-poaching efforts.
William has a keen interest in wildlife conservation and as president of United for Wildlife, he has long wanted to visit Kaziranga.
Kaziranga has fought a sustained battle against poachers who kill the rhinos for their horns, which fetch huge prices in some Asian countries where they are used for medicines and jewellery.
A recent census estimated there were 2,400 one-horned rhinos, currently listed as “vulnerable” by conservation groups, in Kaziranga out of a global population of 3,300.
The couple also spoke to locals living on the edge of the forest and watched traditional weaving in one of their houses.
William and Kate are on their first official visit to India, whose 1.25bn population has long been fascinated with the monarchy of its former colonial master.
They landed in Assam late Tuesday and watched a traditional cultural dance around a bonfire, in the latest stretch of the tour that began on Sunday and has already taken them to New Delhi and Mumbai.
They leave today for neighbouring Bhutan, where they will meet the Himalayan nation’s king and queen and embark on a six-hour hike.
The royal couple return to India to finish the tour on Saturday, visiting the famous Taj Mahal where William’s mother Princess Diana was famously photographed in 1992.
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