The Duke of Cambridge says the fight against the “murderous” illegal ivory trade gangs “must be won for the sake of all of us” after a prominent anti-poaching campaigner was shot dead.
Prince William, the patron of conservation charity Tusk, has led tributes to Wayne Lotter, 51, who was murdered in Tanzania last week.
Mr Lotter, the director and co-founder of the PAMS foundation, an NGO that aims to protect elephants and giraffes by providing anti-poaching support to communities and governments in Africa, was targeted by two men as he travelled in a taxi.
Police said two men stopped his taxi using another vehicle, opened the door and shot him.
The Duke of Cambridge has hit out at the escalating problems with poaching gangs and urged for action.
“Wayne Lotter’s violent and apparently targeted murder shows just how dangerous the situation has become in relation to the big money that is associated with the illegal ivory and rhino horn trades,” he said.
“Rangers and conservationists put themselves in harm’s way every day to stop organised criminals destroying Africa’s natural resources.
“Governments and NGOs must win this fight for the sake of all of us, especially those in communities whose livelihoods are being plundered by murderous criminals.
“My deepest condolences to Wayne’s family and all those at PAMS Foundation for this senseless loss.”
Mr Lotter led the PAMS foundation finances Tanzania’s National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU), which has arrested nearly 900 poachers and illegal ivory traders.
They include the 2015 arrests of Boniface Matthew Maliango and “ivory queen” Yang Feng Glan, two of the country’s most notorious poaching and ivory trading kingpins.
Shortly before his death, the campaigner said that the intelligence-led anti-poaching campaign he is credited with spearheading had succeeded in slowing population decline.
In a statement Tusk said it is “deeply shocked and saddened” by the “terrible news”.
“Initial suspicions are that his ongoing work to combat the illegal wildlife trade, which had prompted numerous threats against him, may well have led to his tragic death at the hands of criminals who wanted him out of the way,” it said.
“Mr Lotter was known for his tireless and courageous work against poaching gangs and the corruption that protects the middlemen and kingpins who mercilessly exploit the illegal trade in endangered species. With his partner, Krissie Clark, he had been totally committed to his conservation work since establishing PAMS in 2009.”
The conservationist started his career as a ranger in his native South Africa before moving to East Africa to combat poaching in Tanzania.
Through his work with PAMS he was responsible for training hundreds of village game scouts across Tanzania.
Tanzania has been called the “epicentre” of the catastrophic decline in Africa’s elephant population, losing some 60 percent of all its elephants in just five years.
A census last year found that Africa’s elephant population had plummeted by 30 percent between 2007 and 2014, leaving just 352,271 animals across 93 percent of their range.
The police have launched an investigation into his death, which happened as he rode in a taxi from Dar es Salaam airport to a hotel.
In the last couple of weeks alone, six wildlife rangers around the world have been killed while working.
Following his death, Peter Carr, investigations director at the Endangered Species Protection Agency, an NGO, and a friend of Mr Lotter, said: “The assassination of Wayne Lotter underlines the seriousness of the organized crime syndicates behind the illegal wildlife trade.
“Wildlife custodians are putting their lives on the line on a daily basis in this current poaching crisis to protect elephants and rhinos. Our thoughts are with Wayne’s wife and family, he will be badly missed in the conservation sector.”
He leaves behind his wife, twin daughters, and parents who all live in South Africa.
His family has created a crowdfunding page to raise funds to set up a legacy trust in his name to fund intelligence-gathering against the ivory trade and to help the families of other wildlife rangers killed in the line of duty.