World's Biggest Hippo Population Devastated

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, 29 August 2003

Nairobi—A new census has found a 95-percent decline in the hippopotamus population in Virunga National Park, on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), once home to the world's largest hippo population, the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF), a global conversation body, reported on Thursday.

Hippos are extremely important in maintaining the ecological balance in rivers and lakes and nearby grasslands, Marc Languy of WWF's Eastern Africa regional programme said.

He added: Hippo dung provides essential basic elements for the food chain, particularly for fish. The loss of more than 27,000 hippos in the past few decades is a double blow: fish catches have dwindled and the freshwater ecosystems are losing hundreds of tons of nutrients every day. Lake Edward supports over 20,000 people living around the park who depend on fish for their livelihood.

Until this year, Virunga has been at the heart of inter-factional fighting, preventing access significant areas. WWF called on the newly-installed DRC transitional government to work with conservation groups to stop poaching hippos in the park and to conserve wildlife, such as the mountain gorilla. WWF said it hoped the government would implement proper planning and management of the country's natural resources.

According to WWF, less than 30 years ago, some 29,000 hippos lived in Virunga National Park, a world heritage site. However, this year's census, conducted by the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature, WWF, and other conservation organisations in March and August, showed that only 1,300 remain. It found that armed factions were killing hippos in shocking numbers not only for their meat, but for their canine teeth, due to an increasing international demand in the illegal ivory trade.

WWF is concerned that unless trade is closely controlled and poaching is stopped, hippos will be threatened with extinction, Dr Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF International's Species Programme, said.

WWF announced that the need for long-term protection of national parks and other valuable protected areas would be addressed at the forthcoming Fifth World Parks' Congress in Durban, South Africa, from 8 to 15 September.