Marnie Woodmeade

Writer  ~  Researcher  ~  Aspiring Educator

Zambia Hippo Cull - Anthrax or Ivory

13 June 2018

Originally written for Frontier

The government of Zambia has announced the cull of 2000 hippos over the next 5 years. Supposedly, these measures are being undertaken to prevent the spread of anthrax; a disease which can potentially be fatal to humans. However the cull will allow trophy hunting for hippos and wildlife conservationists claim that rather than preventing the outbreak of disease this will fuel the hippo ivory trade that is already rampant in Zambia.

Hippos are currently labelled as ‘vulnerable’ with around 130,000 hippos still left in the wild, but due to their aggressive nature in the past governments have claimed that culls have been necessary to protect the local communities. Now, with the outbreak of anthrax the Zambian government is claiming that it is necessary again.

Photo credit: Maxpixel

Hippos are particularly to susceptible to anthrax as the bacteria that causes the disease is often found in mud holes and muddy river banks that they choose to make their home. It can also be passed from the fish and hooved mammal carcasses that hippos feed on. This means that anthrax can be passed from hippo to human via hippo meat.

Anthrax outbreaks among hippos are not common and it is becoming more frequent. There have been outbreaks in Uganda in 2004 and 2010 where over a hundred hippos died in a single week. Anthrax outbreaks are most common when the river levels are very low, and droughts caused by climate change could be at the heart of the issue.

Photo credit: Pixabay | bernswaelz

While you could make the argument that culls are never justified, this particular cull could have particularly negative impacts. It is being promoted by a South African trophy hunting company Umlilo Safaris and for the bargain price of around £10,000 you get a 5 night all-included trip to shoot and kill 5 hippos. This not only continues the trend of trophy hunting, but attempts to justify this outdated and barbaric practice. Calling it ‘Hippo Management’ does not make it any less brutal.

There are also questions about whether or not a hippo cull would actually be effective at preventing the spread of anthrax as the cull does not specifically target the infected animals; the trophy hunters are allowed to target any animal they see. This is why the cull was defeated in 2016, but now more pressure has been added by the trophy hunting companies it is set to start within the year. The death of 2000 hippos could be proved to be totally fruitless as there is no guarantee that any of the infected animals will be the ones killed. The animals killed are merely the easiest for armed trophy hunters to catch.

Photo credit: Flickr | sankar. s

There is also an argument that this cull will fuel the already booming hippo ivory trade in southern Africa. With the crackdown in elephant and rhino ivory industries, hippo ivory is used more and more often as an alternative. Currently hippos are not an endangered species, so there are very few areas where they are protected.

The brutal cull of at least 250 hippos a year does not seem justified. An outbreak of disease decimates their numbers, and they should be protected rather than slaughtered. While there is evidence that hippos can pass the disease onto humans, there is no evidence a cull would prevent this from continuing. All in all, the cull seems to be fuelled by a desire for trophy hunting and ivory, and we can only hope the cull is defeated once more.

For more information on how to prevent the cull please follow the link to Born Free.