BEIJING - Britain's Prince William won praise Thursday from Chinese Internet users after he visited an elephant reserve in the country and condemned illegal wildlife trafficking as "a vicious form of criminality".
William's speech in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province, capped off a four-day visit to China during which he also met with President Xi Jinping in Beijing and chatted with students at a Shanghai football clinic.
The trip was William's first to China, and made him the highest-profile royal visitor since Queen Elizabeth II in 1986.
At Xishuangbanna's Wild Elephant Valley reserve -- home to some 250 to 300 wild pachyderms -- the Duke of Cambridge on Wednesday called for a crackdown on the illegal wildlife trade, which he called "a vicious form of criminality" that "erodes the rule of law, fuels conflict and may even fund terrorism".
"Traffickers think nothing of violating laws and sovereignty anywhere they can to exploit a loophole or turn a profit," he said. "And international cooperation is our strongest defence against them."
His speech came days after Beijing announced a one-year bar on imports of ivory carvings -- a move that activists have described as largely symbolic, as legal imports are minor and most seizures of illegal items are of raw ivory.
Conservationists say China is the world's largest consumer of illegal ivory, with skyrocketing demand fuelling the slaughter of tens of thousands of African elephants each year.
Beijing has made efforts to curb the trade, stepping up prosecutions of smugglers and seizures of ivory at border posts, but campaigners say the measures have not gone far enough.
"China can be a global leader in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade," William said, adding that "no tradition or fashion is worth the extinction of an entire species".
Users of China's popular online social networks hailed the prince's focus on conservation during his visit.
"Thank you, royal family, for your concern for Xishuangbanna's natural resources," one wrote user of Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter.
"He's so loving," another user wrote in response to a photo of William feeding a carrot to a baby elephant. "It doesn't matter whether he's bald or not!"