“My opinion is that the US trade. [in hippo parts] it’s largely a byproduct of other reasons to kill,” says Crawford Allan, a wildlife trade expert at the World Wide Fund for Nature. In Africa, he says, “nobody wastes anything. So if you kill an animal because it’s a danger to your community, then you eat the meat, you sell the skin, you sell the teeth, you sell the skull to taxidermy collectors.” Hippo parts, such as teeth and skin, he says, are not valuable enough to local hunters to provide a significant reason to kill them.
Other experts echo this view. Lewison cites the example of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the hippo population dropped from nearly 30,000 in the mid-1970s to less than 1,000 in 2005. The animals were killed during civil unrest and the war “when everyone was starving.” . And they ate them.”
Lewison acknowledges that hippo parts are sometimes found in seizures of trafficked wildlife products, but says they form a small part of the illegal wildlife trade, which relies on much more valuable products such as elephant ivory and the rhinoceros horn.
A analysis of official trade figures from HSI and collaborators showed that of the hippo products imported into the US between 2008 and 2019, 2,074 were trophy hunts. (Other nations legally imported an estimated 2,000 more hippo trophies during the same period.) However, a trade database compiled by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora reveals that virtually all of the trophies and other hippo parts tabulated by the HSI came from countries with large, apparently well-managed hippo populations. Neither HSI nor the Center for Biological Diversity provided data linking hunting trophies or other legally traded parts to hippo declines.
Paul Scholte, a member of the Ethiopia-based Hippo Specialist Group, says regulated trophy hunting can have conservation benefits. With local colleagues, he conducted and published surveys of hippo populations in northern Cameroon showing declines in government-run conservation areas and stable or increasing populations in areas leased by private trophy hunting providers.
“The factor that explains whether a hippo population is stable or not is the presence of year-round protection, rangers or rangers,” says Scholte, explaining that government rangers do not patrol during much of the rainy season. , when it is necessary to move. difficult. Trophy hunting companies, however, have the funding and motivation to continually protect their concession areas from poachers and illegal gold miners killing hippos in that region.
Hippo experts say the focus on trade in spare parts is a distraction from more important issues and increases friction between African countries. They note that countries in southern and eastern Africa, which have larger and better-managed conservation areas, are generally home to safer hippo populations than countries in central and western Africa, where many populations are on the brink of extinction.
These varying circumstances lead to differing views on conservation policy: West and Central African authorities generally favor wildlife trade bans, which they believe would discourage poaching of their extremely vulnerable populations, while most Southern African and some East African countries argue that their populations are large enough to support hunting and trade, which finance wildlife conservation.