Hippos slaughtered by rebel group in national park
Wednesday 25 October 2006
Hippos falling victim to a poaching spree in a national park could die out in the area unless the culling stops, Zoological Society of London conservationists are warning. We are launching an appeal to raise funds for extra ranger training.
A Congolese militia group is already thought to have killed half the hippo population in Virunga National Park since setting up a base there two weeks ago. Lake Edward, in the centre of the park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was once central to Africa’s greatest concentration of these magnificent beasts.
During the last fortnight alone, more than 400 hippos have been slaughtered as well as a number of buffalo, elephants and other animals. The main cause is the area’s use as a base for a rebel group known as the Mai Mai who eat and sell hippo meat and ivory, found in the hippo’s canine teeth. The group has also attacked a number of conservation rangers and their families.
Years of conflict have already had a devastating impact on the hippo population. A recent ZSL sponsored survey reported less than 900 remaining in the park – a dramatic decline from the 22,000 recorded there in 1988. If the killing continues at its current rate, ZSL field workers fear there will be no hippos left in many parts of the national park by Christmas.
An elite ranger team of the ICCN (Congolese Conservation Institute) has already been established to protect wildlife in Virunga after a recent project between ZSL and other conservation organisations.
Funded by the European Union, ZSL will continue to work with the ICCN in order to reinforce ranger capacity to combat threats to the national park. The 180-year-old charity, which runs London Zoo and Whipsnade Wild Animal Park and has conservation projects in more than 30 countries, is already helping to supplement the income of the park rangers and training them in anti-poaching and conservation techniques with help from EU funding.
ZSL’s Bushmeat and Forests Conservation Programme Coordinator, Lyndsay Gale, said: “This is one of the biggest challenges the park rangers have had to face since the war. It comes as a devastating blow after recent surveys indicated wildlife populations were beginning to recover from over a decade of civil war, due to the commitment and dedication of the rangers. They need our support.”
ZSL is launching an appeal to raise funds for extra ranger training needed in Virunga National Park to safeguard the remaining hippo population.
- Global common hippo populations have suffered a 20 per cent decline in the last 10 years and were put onto the IUCN red list of endangered species – listed as vulnerable – for the first time this year (2006).
- The Congolese government provides a salary of just $1 per day to rangers. This wage is supplemented by ZSL, which also helps to fund training, rations, transport and medical supplies.
- Hippo meat is now being sold in local markets around Lake Edward for just 20 cents (about 15p) per kilo because the market is so overwhelmed.
- Field workers from ZSL have been present in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 2001 and play a role in the management of the park by working with the ICCN to conserve the many endangered species living there.
- The Bushmeat and Forests Conservation Programme is one of six major conservation progammes currently being run by ZSL. The programme is centred on equatorial Africa, and focuses on bushmeat research in West and Central Africa, and national park development in Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- Donations towards the Virunga conservation project can be made online or by sending cheques made payable to the Zoological Society of London to Lyndsay Gale, Bushmeat and Forests Conservation, London Zoo, Outer Circle, London, NW1 4RY.