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Conservation gets a boost with visit from The Duke and Duchess to Kaziranga National Park, Assam

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will undertake official visits to India and Bhutan from 10-16 April. The tour, being carried out at the request of Her 

Majesty’s Government, will be the first time The Duke and Duchess have visited either country. 

In India, The Duke and Duchess will be starting a personal relationship with a country that will play a major global role throughout Their Royal Highnesses’ lives. The Duke and Duchess will pay respect to the historical relationship between Britain and India, but will focus on understanding India as it is today and will be throughout the 21st century – a vibrant, entrepreneurial, aspirational nation that faces both its challenges and huge opportunities with confidence.  

India is the world’s largest democracy and by 2030 is projected to be the most populous nation on earth and home to the world’s third biggest economy. The UK is hugely strengthened by the 1.5 million strong Indian community in the UK. Their Royal Highnesses are pleased to have this chance to contribute to the on-going partnership between Britain and India.

In Bhutan, The Duke and Duchess are looking forward to learning about a beautiful country that has famously prioritised the happiness of its people above all other national goals. Their Royal Highnesses are honoured to have the opportunity to build a personal relationship with Their Majesties The King and Queen, who being of the same generation they look forward to knowing for many years to come. The visit to Bhutan comes less than a decade after the historic decision, led by the Fourth King, to establish a democratic, Constitutional Monarchy in the country.  This is an opportune time to build on the friendly relations between the UK and Bhutan.

During their India Visit, their Royal Highnesses will visit Kaziranga National Park in the state of Assam. The theme of this leg focuses on the role of conservation in the lives of the rural people of this area. Kaziranga is a World Heritage Site and a wildlife conservation site of great global importance. In addition to being the home of elephants, water buffalo, a number of bird species, the endangered swamp deer, and a high density of tigers, Kaziranga is home to two-thirds of the world’s population of Indian one-horned rhinoceroses – Latin name, Rhinoceros Unicornis. 

More than many other famous national parks in the world, in Kaziranga you get a real sense of how closely linked local people are to the animals that live there. This connection is not always easy. The visit to Kaziranga will allow The Duke and Duchess to see up close work being done to manage the conflicts that arise when humans and wild animals live in close proximity. A number of stories of human animal conflict in India have made global news recently and this trip will allow Their Royal Highnesses and accompanying media to understand this issue in much more detail.

The visit to the park will begin on the evening of Tuesday 12 April. The visit comes at the time of the Bohag Bihu festival, the celebration of the Assamese New Year. Around a campfire, the Duke and Duchess will meet local people and see dance and musical performances. It will be a colourful and fun introduction to rural life and a great way to start this leg of the tour.

The next morning, 13 April, will be an early start for an open-air drive around the National Park itself. They will be welcomed by local people and park staff at the entrance to Kaziranga before the drive begins. The Duke, President of United for Wildlife, has long wanted to visit Kaziranga. The park is situated on a flood plain and the vital annual floods drive animals up to the adjacent hills. 

In between the park and the hills, however, are growing numbers of villages which are in the path of ancient corridors for elephants and rhinos. The importance of the floods makes the area highly vulnerable to climate change as well, as reduced or increased snowmelts from the Himalayas could have severe consequences for this ecosystem. 

The Duke and Duchess will also meet rangers inside Kaziranga. The park has had success in recent years with protecting its animal populations from poachers. This has begun to change, however, with a number of recent poaching incidents. Rhinos are in particular danger as demand in other parts of Asia for their horns continues to rise. Traffickers in South East Asia are now marketing Indian rhino horn as ‘fire horn’ and lying about its increased potency when compared to African horn. The Duke will use this visit to speak out against the lies and violence that threaten this valuable species and the communities that rely on it.

After the tour of the park the Duke and Duchess will have an opportunity to interact with local people in a village. Details will be announced later.

In the afternoon, they will visit the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation. The centre provides emergency care and rehabilitation to wild animals that have been injured, displaced, or orphaned.  The centre has a strong re-release rate of 60% and has rehabilitated thousands of animals including hand-raised elephants, rhinos, and bears. The centre is also home to rescued leopards which sadly cannot be re-released from the site and have to be rehomed in sanctuaries and zoos in other locations, mainly in India. Before leaving CWRC, The Duke and Duchess will meet young filmmakers who are members of Green Hub, a project that teaches film-making as a vocational skill to young people across North-East India. They will see two short films that both focus on human animal conflict.

After visiting CWRC, The Duke and Duchess will travel across the road to the Kaziranga Discovery Centre built by Elephant Family, the charity founded by Mark Shand, late brother of The Duchess of Cornwall. Here they will see a first of its kind health clinic for working elephants and an elephant information centre, which is under construction. Their Royal Highnesses will also have an opportunity to meet with villagers who have been relocated by the charity to keep them safely out of the path of an elephant corridor. Before departing, The Duke and Duchess will put the finishing touches on an elephant sculpture to officially mark the ‘call for artists’ for India’s elephant parade, which will see 200 elephants decorated by artists and placed in 200 locations across India by the Elephant Family. These parades have previously been staged in London, Edinburgh, and New York.

This tour to India and Bhutan occurs in the week before The Queen’s 90th birthday. The Duke and Duchess are honoured to be carrying out this visit on Her Majesty’s behalf as so many around the world prepare to celebrate this happy milestone. The Queen of course has visited India several times and the country is the largest member of the Commonwealth. In both India and Bhutan.

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