'Passionate' Prince Harry Gets Close to Rhinos in Africa – and Strikes a Blow to Poachers, Government Minister Tells PEOPLE

Prince Harry Gets Close to Rhinos in Africa and Strikes Blow to Poachers
Prince Harry
Alan Crowhurst/Getty; DeAgostini/Getty

07/24/2015 AT 11:55 AM EDT

Prince Harry's dream job has brought him nose-to-horn with the animals he's working to help, PEOPLE has learned.

The royal conservation activist, 30, has been helping de-horn rhinos – an approach meant to thwart poachers – and immersing himself in the local culture in Namibia during his conservation tour of Africa.

Namibia has the largest population of black rhinos in the world, and the animals are the focus of Harry's current mission, where he has been shadowing a leading veterinarian, Dr. Pete Morkel.

The minister for environment and tourism, Mr. Pohamba Shifeta, met Harry last week and tells PEOPLE he has been helping in a program for partially removing horns from the black rhinos. (The horns grow back.) "He was in the field seeing how we are doing the de-horning," says Shifeta.



"It is part of the anti-poaching strategy. Poachers won't come and kill them if there is no horn. There is a team from the ministry doing that, and he spent time with them."

It is one of his active roles in "seeing practical actions on the ground and how we care about the black rhinos," Shifeta adds.

He praised Harry for "airing his voice about conservation in the world. In southern Africa, we have the largest population of wildlife today, especially the high-value species. His contribution is highly appreciated."

Shifeta adds, "He is really interested in the conservation of our biodiversity. He is passionate about conservation. It can make an impact."

And he revealed that keen photographer Harry (who published a gallery of his own shots of the work of his charity Sentebale in 2014), has been capturing pictures of some of the locals and absorbing their customs.

"He liked the country. He was very impressed. Apart from wildlife attraction, you could see he had some pictures of cultural groups who welcomed him. He had been taking pictures. He is very down to earth. Community members very much appreciated [him]."

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Harry is a few weeks into a three-month journey through four countries in Africa, also including expeditions in Tanzania, South Africa and Botswana.

The ministry has denied reports that Shifeta had criticized Harry for not getting official permission from the government and that his tour was a p.r. exercise. "We never had a problem with him. I said to respect his privacy," he adds.

He said Harry saw something of the community conservancies – a government program in which communities are enlisted to take care of the wildlife. The belief is that for locals, "wildlife is treated like domestic animals. You see them interacting with human beings. You see ostrich, springbok, and they are used to people. This can attract tourists, which brings income."

The last poached black rhino was killed in June – and the person has been arrested, Shifeta says. "Communities are entrusted with this. We tell them, 'This is your property, you must guard it.' They report on anything that looks suspicious or see people carrying guns."

Kensington Palace says that because Harry is on a "private visit," it is not commenting on his moves throughout the region.

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