Posted on Category:Animal Care

Hippos Are in Trouble

Thanks to years of campaigns led by conservation groups, it is common knowledge that African Elephants and Rhinos are threatened by the trade in their precious tusks and horns. Laws and regulations have been strengthened and, in many countries, it is now difficult, if not impossible, to lawfully sell elephant and rhino products.

What is less known is that the other large African pachyderm, The hippopotamus, is also threatened in many regions of the continent and that thousands of hippo products, including leather, skulls and teeth, are lawfully bought and sold around the world every year.

A small consortium of US animal welfare and conservation groups is now trying to change that, urging the US government to increase lawful protections for the hippo under the Endangered Species Act.

Africa has two species of hippos: The endangered pygmy hippo, which is found in a small part of West Africa, and the larger hippo, which is found in much of sub-Saharan Africa. But despite its name, the hippo is not common throughout its original range. It has been eradicated from at least four countries and its populations are small and declining in many others. In some countries where the species has appeared frequently in recent times, only ten or a few hundred individuals remain.

On February 15, World Hippo Day, the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Legislative fund, the Humane Society International and the Center for Biological Diversity announced their intention to sue the US Fish and Wildlife Service to force the agency to consider listing the hippo under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). “As the world’s largest importer of Hippo coins, the US government can no longer ignore its responsibilities and the crucial role it can play in the action against lawful trade,” said Adam Peyman of the Humane Society International (HSI). The endangered species list, the organizations said, would “almost completely limit most imports and sales of hippos and create awareness and funding to achieve ESA conservation goals.”

The tactic worked. The Fish and Wildlife Service is now asking for feedback before deciding to start the registration process. Classifying the hippo as vulnerable — it is already classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature — would not completely stop the import of hunting trophies, said Tanya Sanerib, international lawful director of the Center for Biodiversity. But it would force the agency to ensure that hunting “improves the survival of the species.”Potential importers should demonstrate that hippo hunting has conservation benefits, a difficult and time-consuming task. Listing a foreign species under the ESA would also allow the US government to allocate funds for its conservation.

Many hippo experts have welcomed the new attention paid to the animal, which has long been neglected in research and conservation circles. However, they say that the trade in hippo parts is hardly the greatest threat to the animal and that banning this trade is unlikely to have any conservation benefits. If the ESA list does not encourage the consideration of much more serious threats to hippos, these experts say, this decision will probably not make sense. And it can even cause harm.

Hippos are curvaceous vegetarians who bask in the water almost all day long, with only their large nostrils, tiny eyes and small swivel ears protruding above the surface. Because you are prone to sunburn, you need to moisturize your skin. Although they inspire maternal, comic or friendly characters in children’s books and television shows, hippos are peril animals. The species tops the list of Africa’s deadliest animals, along with crocodiles and venomous snakes, says Simon Pooley, an expert on human-animal conflicts in Southern Africa.

Among terrestrial mammals, the hippopotamus ranks second only to the two species of African elephants and the white rhinoceros in size. A tall man can weigh about 4,500 pounds. Hippo jaws can open up to nearly 180 degrees, exposing fearsome front teeth, including sharp canines that protrude up to 20 inches from their gums. They can be very territorial, often striking and sinking small boats that come too close. At night, hippos leave the water to graze on Land, where they sometimes experience humans: since panicked hippos can gallop at 19 mph, these meetings can be deadly for humans.

Despite their size and strength, hippos are easy to hunt. They are easy to find and shoot in the water. And if a hunter does not have a Weapon, a piece of studded wood or a wire sling placed on the usual waterway of a hippo cuts his feet and triggers a deadly infection.

Thousands of hippos are finished every year, mainly by Africans living near them, but also by sport marksmans. Hunters often take certain parts of the carcasses, including the teeth, which form a substitute for poor-quality Elephant ivory; the skin, which can become marketable leather; and the bones, a curiosity for the gatherers. Many of these parts are sold to intermediaries and end up on international markets.

In a joint press release, the group that defends the classification of the hippo as endangered explained that between 2009 and 2018, parts of at least 3,081 hippos had been lawfully imported into the United States. Hippo experts do not dispute this figure, but do not think that it indicates that a significant number of hippos die for the trade of their coins. Animals, they say, are almost always finished for other reasons.

In many African countries, hippos and humans are increasingly competing for fertile land and fresh water. “Hippos are very much in need of the same resources as we are,” says Rebecca Lewison of San Diego State University, co-chair of the Hippo Specialist group OF the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Irrigation systems and droughts caused by climate change are drying up water bodies and new dams are flooding hippo habitat. Every day people create new fields and orchards along rivers and lakes filled with hippos, so that animals feed more and more on human crops and come into conflict with more and more people. In addition, their meat is rich and tasty, and a single animal can provide more than a thousand pounds of meat — enough to feed an entire community or make a big profit at a local market.

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