Prince Harry has described protecting wildlife as 'God's test' for mankind after opening up about his quest to save 500 endangered elephants from poachers.
The British royal graced the cover of Town & Country after taking a reporter inside his journey where he spent three weeks in Malawi over the summer working alongside volunteers, vets and experts on the frontline of one of the largest and most significant elephant translocations.
Photographs show the 32-year-old hanging onto a rope with several other volunteers as they try to get a bull elephant to lie down, and 'spray painting' elephants to temporarily mark them before they are released back into the bush. In another, he posed up for the upscale society magazine, wearing his African Parks shirt, for what would become their front cover.
The prince, who has often spoken of how he would like to walk away from his royal duties to live in Africa and work on such projects permanently, spoke of his incredible experience in getting hands on with helping with conservation.
'I do worry. I think everyone should worry,' he said. 'We need to look after them, because otherwise our children will not have a chance to see what we have seen. This is God's test: If we can't save some animals in a wilderness area, what else can't we do?'
He also talked about his special affinity with Africa, the place he went 'to get away from it all' after the death of his mother Princess Diana, the place 'where I feel more like myself than anywhere else in the world.'
Up to 500 elephants are being moved over 350 kilometres across Malawi from Liwonde National Park and Majete Wildlife Reserve to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, where the elephants will be able to thrive.
Harry helped with the first phase of the translocation when 261 elephants were successfully re-homed through the African Parks organisation, which aims to relocate some endangered animals from areas where numbers are thriving, to safe places were populations have disappeared. The remaining 239 elephants will be moved during the second phase next summer.
During those three weeks in the Malawi bush, he says he fell in love with the project because 'they get things done.'
'They make tough decisions, and they stick to principles,' said the prince, and army veteran. 'I don't go on safari,' added Harry, who visits Africa every year, 'I come so I can surround myself with people [working in conservation] and support them.'
Despite being fifth in line to the British throne, Harry was just another member of the conservation team while in Malawi. Almost everyone addressed him simply as 'Harry' and sleep in one of their basic green canvas tents pitched on the banks of the Shire River - teeming with crocodiles and hippos.
Of course, after decade in the Army, Harry is no stranger to rough it, 'Although, of course, this is total luxury in comparison.'
After a long hard day at work, he would sit up with the conservation crew, sipping Scotch and discussing the struggles faced to save endangered animals from extinction. Then he was up at dawn to join a daily routine of brewing tea over the camp fire, sharing bucket showers and polishing off a cooked breakfast made in the field kitchen.
A senior member of staff there said: 'He behaves just like one of the guys. He doesn't put on any airs and graces. Far from it – when I met him he had a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He's clearly enjoying it here and his skills are hugely appreciated.'
The daring prince helped out how he could, flying in helicopters over Liwonde National park to act as a spotter for his crew, who herd the beasts into safe shooting range for vets – carrying tranquilizer guns – aboard a second helicopter.
On some missions Harry, who flew Apache attack helicopters in Afghanistan, takes the controls for landings in the rough savannah.
Each mission sees expertly trained conservationists use their tranquilizer darts to stun the mighty animals, which can weigh up to six tons. The animals are then winched by crane into crates and taken on a 450-mile road trip to the underpopulated Nkhotakota reserve further north.
At other times, he joined the ground crew, helping herd the tranquilized animals or to 'tip' them to stop them from running away with a tranquilizer dart still in them.
Yet Harry was unfazed by the obvious danger he faced.
'I've done this a few times before,' he explained when asked about his apparent lack of fear. 'Also, I'm fatalistic. If something is going to happen to you, it will happen. And I have such a respect for wild animals that it's a privilege to be around them. Plus, the army taught me teamwork.'
In footage of his time in Malawi, Harry says that this is the 'most efficient and least invasive way' of being able to safely move the elephants.
'I can tell you after three weeks there is zero stress on these animals and they're going from one beautiful place to another beautiful place.
'It's amazing to see such unbelievable creatures being moved in a way you could never even dream of. To be with elephants, such massive beasts, is a unique experience. In a weird way they know we are here to help…they are so calm and so relaxed. 'They need to be moved to a different place so this is the most efficient and least invasive way of doing it.'
He added: 'Elephants are one of the cores of Africa. You can't imagine anywhere like this existing without elephants'.
The initiative is not his first major conservation expedition to Africa. Last year he spent three months with with soldiers fighting off rhino-poachers in Kruger National Park in South Africa, and also joined a team tracking lions in the remote Palmwag Reserve in Namibia's north-west Kunene region.
Harry, a devoted conservationist, has been coming to the continent for decades.
The first time was in 1997, just a few months after his mother, Princess Diana, was killed in a tragic car crash that shook the world.
'My dad told my brother and me to pack our bags—we were going to Africa to get away from it all,' he said. 'My brother and I were brought up outdoors. We appreciate nature and everything about it. But it became more…'
Harry said that the continent was the one place he felt like he could finally be himself.
'This is where I feel more like myself than anywhere else in the world. I wish I could spend more time in Africa. I have this intense sense of complete relaxation and normality here.
'To not get recognized, to lose myself in the bush with what I would call the most down-to-earth people on the planet, people [dedicated to conservation] with no ulterior motives, no agendas, who would sacrifice everything for the betterment of nature… I talk to them about their jobs, about what they do. And I learn so much.'
Harry and his girlfriend, Suits actress Meghan Markle, appear to share an affinity for non-profit work. She recently visited Rwanda where she met with children as an ambassador for charity World Vision.
However, Harry and his team have sometimes faced backlash for the work they do.
Sometimes, that's from the poachers themselves, the very people threatening the very extinction of some of Africa's most incredible beasts. At others, it can be from poor locals who are frustrated at the expense of the conservation effort while they struggle to put food on their table.
Malawi is one of the least developed an densely populated countries in Africa with almost half its population living on $2 a day. Most of its natural resources have been so thoroughly mined for timber and charcoal that the only green areas left in the country are the protected parks.
But Peter Fearnhead, the Zimbabwean-born CEO and co-founder of the nonprofit African Parks said that letting people destroy the last remaining areas - which would then disappear in a few months - was not the solution.
'I completely understand those frustrations, which you would have too if you were constantly, desperately trying to provide for yourself and your family,' Harry added. The overall picture for elephants in Africa is deeply alarming - due to poaching, habitat loss and human wildlife conflict, numbers are being decimated.
The need to manage and protect those herds which are thriving has become more acute, to ensure there is hope of securing the future of Africa's elephants.
In pockets where elephant populations outgrow their surroundings they can come into conflict with local communities, or find that vegetation is unable to sustain the population.
A balance between the number of animals and the available habitat is required to help relieve pressure in areas like Liwonde.
By moving herds into safe parks like Nkhotakota, it is hoped that the pressure on existing habitats will be reduced, and the population of elephants will continue to grow.
Taking part in this project, Prince Harry was keen to get experience on the front line of conservation, and learn more about the issues affecting wildlife in Africa, aides said. He also believes that conservation needs a regulatory body to monitor whether the effort is working - not just for the animals but also the local community.These are very special places,' he said of the conservation parks, but they are islands with a sea of people around them.
'I do worry. I think everyone should worry. We need to look after them, because otherwise our children will not have a chance to see what we have seen. This is God's test: If we can't save some animals in a wilderness area, what else can't we do?'
Along with moving elephants, Prince Harry assisted with translocating a male rhino, a host of game species including antelope, buffalo, and zebra, and he facilitated in re-collaring three lions in Majete with GPS collars to monitor and better protect them.
Numbering as many as 10,000,000 a century ago, recent census results indicate that African elephants have been reduced to fewer than 450,000. With between 30,000 to 40,000 elephants being poached every year to feed the insatiable demand for ivory, their long-term survival at risk.
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