Posted on 12 September 2005
A new aerial survey shows that the hippo population in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo will soon be extinct due to rampant poaching for hippo teeth and meat.
Gland, Switzerland – A new aerial survey shows that the hippo population in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo will soon be extinct due to rampant poaching for hippo teeth and meat, WWF warned today.
Once the world's largest hippo population, with some 29,000 individuals in 1974, it has now dropped to under 1,000 individuals, the global conservation organization said.
Hippos are being killed by soldiers and local militia, as well as local poachers. They can be bought for around US$50 dollars, and hippo canine teeth often end up as part of the illegal ivory trade.
This latest survey and exhaustive count of hippos in Virunga — carried out last month by the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN), the EU, and WWF — shows that only 887 individuals remain, down from 1,309 two years ago.
Soldiers and armed groups are still found in parts of the park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This makes it difficult for ICCN and WWF to maintain consistent conservation work in these areas.
"Soldier are left in the park without being fed nor paid and that’s a recipe for disaster," said Marc Languy of WWF’s Eastern Africa Regional Programme.
"The Congolese government must urgently remove the army from this protected area and ensure that ICCN staff can continue with their official mandate to control the park."
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. 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.
"If the government does not take the hippo situation in Virunga seriously, this will not only lead to an environmental disaster, but also to an economic crisis for local communities," added Languy. For further information:
WWF Eastern Africa Regional Programme
Tel: +254 733 227 650
Olivier van Bogaert, Senior Press Officer
Tel: +41 22 364 9554