The hippos are in trouble. Will “endangered” status save them?

by The Insights

“My view is that American trade [in hippo parts] is largely a byproduct of other reasons to kill,” says Crawford Allan, wildlife trade expert at the World Wildlife Fund. In Africa, he says, “no one wastes anything. So if you kill an animal because it’s a danger to your community, then you eat the meat, you sell the skin, you sell the teeth, you sell the skull to taxidermy collectors. Hippopotamus parts like teeth and skin, he says, aren’t worth enough to local hunters to provide an important reason to kill them.

Other experts share this opinion. Lewison cites the example of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the hippo population fell from nearly 30,000 in the mid-1970s to less than 1,000 in 2005. The animals were killed during the unrest civilians and war “when everyone was starving”. . And they ate them.

Lewison acknowledges that hippo parts are sometimes found in seizures of trafficked wildlife products, but she says they make up only a tiny fraction of the illegal wildlife trade, which is backed by much more valuable commodities, such as elephant ivory and rhino horn.

An analysis of official trade figures by HSI and collaborators showed that of the hippo products imported into the United States between 2008 and 2019, 2,074 were hunting trophies. (Other nations legally imported approximately 2,000 additional hippo trophies during the same period). However, a trade database compiled by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora reveals that virtually all of the trophies and other hippo parts compiled by the HSI came from countries with large apparently well-managed hippo populations. Neither HSI nor the Center for Biological Diversity has provided data linking hunting trophies or other legally traded pieces to the decline of hippos.

Paul Scholte, a member of the Ethiopia-based Hippo Specialist Group, says regulated trophy hunting can have conservation benefits. With local colleagues, he has conducted and published surveys of hippopotamus populations in northern Cameroon that show declines in government-run conservation areas and stable or increasing populations in areas leased by outfitters. deprived of trophy hunting.

“The factor that explains whether a hippo population is stable or not is a year-round protective presence – rangers or scouts,” says Scholte, explaining that government rangers don’t patrol for much of the season. rainy weather, when getting around is difficult. Trophy hunting companies, however, have the funding and motivation to permanently protect their concession areas from poachers and illegal miners who kill the hippos in this area.

Hippo experts say the focus on trade in spare parts diverts attention from bigger issues and intensifies friction between African countries. They point out that southern and eastern African countries – which have larger and better-managed conservation areas – generally harbor safer hippo populations than central and western African countries, where many populations are on the point of disappearing.

These varying circumstances lead to different views on conservation policy: authorities in West and Central Africa are generally supportive of wildlife trade bans, which they claim would discourage poaching of their populations extremely vulnerable, while most countries in Southern Africa and some in East Africa argue that their populations are large enough to support hunting and trade, which funds wildlife conservation.

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