Prince William
Prince William feeds a baby elephant in the wild elephant valley in Xishuangbanna in China's Yunnan province on March 4, 2015. AFP / Getty Images

Prince William faced certain embarrassment during the final leg of his royal Far East trip, after he visited an animal sanctuary where elephants are forced to perform for tourists nearby.

The young royal, who was in China's Yunnan Province to highlight the plight of the region's wild elephants and to call for an end to the ivory trade, was feeding a rescue elephant named Ran Ran during a photo opportunity. However, the Prince was unaware that just a few miles away, elephants were being kept in dingy enclosures with their legs in chains.

The elephants are trained to entertain tourists during twice-daily shows at the Xishuangbanna Wild Elephant Valley park. During the hour long shows, tourists are invited to sit on the elephants trunks and ride on them. The animals are seen wearing comical giant spectacles and sit balanced on tiny stools, while others kick a football. Some are even trained to dance to disco music and form a pyramid during shows.

Oblivious to the exploitation of the animals shackled nearby, Prince William was seen feeding carrots to Ran Ran. He joked: "You're going to get indigestion."

When questioned by Sky News as to whether he was aware of the elephant enclosures, the Prince did not respond.

Elephant exploitation
The elephants are trained and used to entertain tourists according to Sky News. Sky News

Prince William is passionate about creating awareness of endangered species and highlighting the trade in endangered wildlife. As patron of the Tusk Trust, he said he wanted to use his last day of his royal tour to learn more about China's role in fighting the illegal trade in wildlife.

Speaking to journalists at the sanctuary about the global illegal wildlife trade the Duke said earlier: "It is appalling that elephants and many others may be extinct in the wild in our lifetimes, and we seem to be hurtling towards the tragic outcome. The extinction of animals such as elephants, rhinos and pangolins would be an immeasurable loss to the whole of humanity. Traffickers think nothing of violating laws and sovereignty anywhere they can to exploit a loophole or turn a profit. And international cooperation is our strongest defence against them," he added.

Kensington Palace issued a statement explaining that while the Prince is fully aware of the larger issues relating to the exploitation of elephants in the region, the focus of the visit was for him to learn more about the region's conservation efforts and engage with the positive work being done.

Charlie Mayhew, chief executive of the Tusk Trust of which William is patron, also defended the prince's decision to visit the park.

Prince William
Prince William delivered an emotive speech on wildlife conservation in Xishuangbanna. AFP / Getty Images

He said: "Different cultures have different ways of doing things, of course it's not the way we do things. But you know I think today was very much about highlighting the illegal wildlife trade - this trip for him in terms of conservation has been about watching, listening, learning about the challenges faced by conservationists here in China.

China is a key culprit in the illegal trade of protected species, with tonnes of animal parts smuggled into the country from Africa.

A royal source has said that during William's talks with China's President Xi Jinping earlier this week, wildlife protection and the illegal trade in ivory were raised. The Prince is said to be pleased by the pledges of Chinese leader's to clamp down on the industry.

The Royal tour is the first visit to the mainland by a member of the British royal family in almost three decades.