September 12, 2005

World’s largest hippo population almost gone-WWF

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - 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

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.