September 12, 2005
World’s Largest Hippo Population Almost Gone
JOHANNESBURG -- An aerial survey shows what was once the world's largest hippo population in the Democratic Republic of Congo is being poached to extinction, conservationist group WWF International said on Monday.
"Hippos are being killed by soldiers and local militia, as well as local poachers. Hippos can be bought for around $50, and hippo canine teeth often end up as part of the illegal ivory trade," the WWF said in a statement.The hippo population in Congo's Virunga National Park in the vast country's far east numbered 29,000 in 1974.
However, a decade of conflict in the region has taken its toll of wildlife including Virunga's once abundant hippopotamus population.
Carried out last month by WWF, the European Union and the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature, the survey showed there were only 887 hippos left in Virunga, down from 1,309 two years ago.
WWF said the ecological disaster went beyond the hippos.
"The decline of the Virunga hippo population has also adversely affected the situation of local people, especially the thousands of fishermen living around Lake Edward, within the park," it said.
"The lake is one of the most productive in the world, as hippo dung provides vital nutrients for fish. The dramatic fall of the hippo population has also resulted in a rapid decline of the lake's fish stocks."
Hippos can weigh up to 3,000 kg (three tons) or more and their dung nourishes freshwater ecosystems throughout Africa.
Poaching them is a risky business as a wounded hippo can be dangerous and is apt to charge its pursuers. It is capable of biting a man in two with its massive mouth and huge teeth.