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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Animal advocates urge feds to put hippo on endangered species list

Wildlife advocates hope adding the hippo to the U.S. endangered species list will curb the illicit trade of their parts worldwide.

(CN) — A coalition of wildlife advocacy organizations filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday, requesting the agency consider whether the hippopotamus should be added to the endangered species list. 

There are no hippopotamuses in North America, but advocates argue the wildlife trade around hippo parts, which includes their prized ivory tusks, would be greatly diminished if the species were added to the list. 

“Hippos are being needlessly slaughtered for commercial trade and trophy hunting,” said Adam Peyman, director of wildlife programs for Humane Society International. “As the leading importer of hippo parts, the United States should be ashamed of the role they play in the decline of this iconic species. If we don’t protect them now, hippos may disappear forever.”

The United States has imported more hippo parts, which include teeth, tusks, leather products made from the animal’s skins and other forms of trophy, than any other country on the globe, the advocates say. 

Humane Society International says import records kept by federal agencies indicate that a little more than 3,000 hippos have been slaughtered as part of the legal wildlife trade program in the United States over the course of the last decade. 

“We cannot continue to allow thousands of hippos to be killed for their teeth or skin, for a ridiculous trinket or a pair of boots,” said Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. “This iconic species must be granted urgent protection under the Endangered Species Act to end this cruel cycle.”

The hippopotamus is a large mammal — the third-largest behind the elephant and rhinoceros — that is native to sub-Saharan Africa, although it has made incursions into parts of Colombia due to former cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar, who kept them on his sprawling estate. It is a semiaquatic animal that prefers to occupy small rivers, lakes and other water bodies. It is recognized because of its squat shape, but despite appearances, it can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour, much faster than the average human. 

While many fear lions, leopards and other imposing animals native to America, the hippo is actually the most dangerous due to its aggressive and wildly unpredictable nature. 

The hippo is poached both for its meat and for its canine teeth. Under President Teddy Roosevelt, lawmakers from Louisiana proposed releasing hippos into the bayou to help control and invasive weed problem while providing a source of low-cost meat. 

The proposal, which Roosevelt backed, came just shy of passing in 1910. 

In addition to hunting, habitat loss continues to negatively impact African mammals including the hippo. Climate change, which can exacerbate drought trends, could hamper the animals' well-being as freshwater systems come under increasing pressure in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Water diversions and other efforts to mobilize freshwater for human uses could further harm the species, advocates say. 

“Limiting U.S. imports by listing hippos under the ESA will grant them important protections and will set the stage for other countries to follow,” said Tracie Letterman, vice president of federal affairs for Humane Society Legislative Fund. “As conservation leaders, but also the leading importer of hippo parts and products, the U.S. has a critical role to play in saving hippos from extinction.”

Fish and Wildlife has 90 days to review petitions and to make determinations. 

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Categories / Environment, Government, International

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