Poachers close to wiping out hippos in DRC park

The last remaining hippos in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are facing extinction and could be wiped out in many parts of a national park by the end of the year if intense poaching by hungry militiamen continues, conservationists said.

The first two weeks of this month alone saw more than 400 hippos slaughtered in lawless Virunga National Park, which was once home to one of Central Africa’s greatest hippopotamus concentrations, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) said in a statement posted on its website on Saturday.

A recent survey sponsored by the conservation group showed there were fewer than 900 hippos left in the park — ”a dramatic decline from the 22 000 recorded there in 1988”, the statement said.

”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,” the group said.

The so-called Mai-Mai militia, a ragtag group of impoverished Congolese fighters with varying loyalties who operate across huge swaths of the eastern DRC, set up a base in the park earlier this month, the ZSL said.

”During the last fortnight alone, more than 400 hippos have been slaughtered as well as a number of buffalo, elephants and other animals,” the ZSL said. ”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 hippos’ canine teeth. The group has also attacked a number of conservation rangers and their families.”

Government soldiers, as well as Rwandan Hutu rebels who fled Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and took refuge in the dense forests of the eastern DRC, have also been blamed for contributing to the hippos’ slaughter, as well as that of other animals in Virunga and other DRC parks, including Kahuzi-Biega to the south, which is known for its dwindling population of eastern lowland gorillas.

Virunga park is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation World Heritage Site. — Sapa-AP

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Todd Pitman
Todd Pitman works from [email protected] Regional Public Information Officer, UN Human Rights (OHCHR), based in Bangkok. Ex-AP foreign correspondent in Africa and Asia-Pacific. Todd Pitman has over 2342 followers on Twitter.

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