Recent aerial surveys and ranger reports indicate an uptick in hippo poaching in several of Uganda’s 10 national parks. The number of hippos has been steadily decreasing, with the bodies often going missing due to poaching. These findings increase the already substantial concerns for the safety of these vulnerable animals.
The hippo is under increasing threat from poachers who want the animal both for its meat and its teeth, which are prized for carving and exported as (hippo ivory) internationally.
“Hippopotamus numbers have decreased in the country’s national parks, as indicated by a new aerial survey that has not yet been made public. We know there’s a reduction in hippos, especially in Murchison Falls National Park, which is home to roughly 3,000 of Uganda’s 10,000 estimated hippos.” The Deputy Director of Field Operations for the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Charles Tumwesigye, said
In 2016, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature designated hippos as a vulnerable species, citing loss of habitat as well as uncontrolled and illegal hunting as the primary risks to this mammal. Due in part to the fact that females normally only have one young each year, it can take a while for populations of the sixteen-foot-long animals to recover from losses.
Michael Keigwin, the founder of the non-profit Uganda Conservation Foundation, said that although commercial exports of hippo teeth were outlawed in 2014, there is still a sizable worldwide market for sculptures made from hippo teeth supplied both legitimately and illegally from countries such as Uganda.
Tumwesigye says the number of deaths is still being determined. “We can’t confirm that yet until we have the results of the recent survey,” which are expected in late August after analysis of the aerial work is complete, he says.
Focused Conservation, an international organisation that investigates wildlife crime alongside UWA’s Wildlife Crime Unit, reports an uptick in hippo tooth seizures in Uganda this year. The conservation organisation issued a warning last month about the seizure of 598 hippo teeth by Ugandan officials between January and June of 2023. According to the group’s data, however, authorities only confiscated 32 teeth in all of 2022.
The IUCN estimated in 2016 that there were between 115,000 and 130,000 wild hippos, and these animals are native to 38 nations in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, the group claims that inaccurate population estimates have made it difficult to monitor hippo populations and ensure their survival and proper management.