prince william elephant
Britain's Prince William (L), Duke of Cambridge, touches elephant "Ranran" as he feeds it during his visit to an elephant sanctuary in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province March 4, 2015. Reuters

Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, strongly condemned illegal wildlife trading in a speech on Wednesday that concluded his tour to China.

Calling it a “vicious form of criminality” in a speech after visiting the Elephant Valley sanctuary in the southwestern province of Yunnan, William said that ivory poaching is used to fuel conflicts and possibly even terror groups, People Magazine reported.

“The illegal wildlife trade is therefore our common enemy. It is a vicious form of criminality: plundering the natural resources of poorer countries, taking lives, hindering development and spreading corruption,” he said.

The prince, who is the president of the United for Wildlife advocacy group, added: "The greatest threat to elephants worldwide today is not local farmers protecting their livelihoods, it is ruthless and organised poaching and trafficking."

He also praised China’s decision to ban foods such as shark fins, bird nests and wild animals at official dinner events, as well as a decision China took on Thursday to ban the import of ivory carvings for one year to help protect Africa’s endangered elephant population.

While in China, he fed carrots to an elephant that had been rescued from poachers, at a park where elephants are made to perform for tourists. His staff told the Telegraph that they were aware of the allegedly inhumane treatment of the animals, but said that China’s attitude toward the animals -- both good and bad -- had to be dealt with directly to inspire change.

Earlier during his trip, the prince had visited the village of Mengman on the border of the nature reserve to learn about local efforts to adapt farming methods that would avoid clashes between villagers and elephants.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species banned the ivory trade in 1989, but China is still authorized to trade domestically and has around 150 licensed shops, BBC reported. But, conservationists say this has encouraged the illegal imports of foreign ivory from Africa, which has in turn spurred poaching on that continent.

Users of China’s blogging services praised the prince’s efforts, Agence France-Presse reported.

“Thank you, royal family, for your concern for Xishuangbanna’s natural resources,” wrote a user of the Sina Weibo blogging platform.