Illegal trade and smuggling is a real menace to our ecosystem. We all know that. But we need to work towards educating people early on so they don’t even get to develop a fetish towards collecting animal parts – that’s the sickeningly difficult part. Whether it’s ivory, pangolin scales, exotic furs, rhino horns or hippo teeth, people need to know that demand for these animal parts is driving entire species towards extinction. Such is the case with the hippopotamus, and the situation is alarming, according to a recent study published in the African Journal of Ecology.
The humble hippopotamus is the target of a barbaric practice which threatens to drive the species extinct. A new study says that a rise in demand for hippos’ teeth is even more severe because hippos are not high on the priority list of the international conservation community. But then how and why did ivory smugglers suddenly turn their scopes towards the hippo? There’s a lot of reasons and most of them are purely practical and almost natural (as evil as it sounds).
In many ways, it takes a lot of effort to kill an elephant. They are legally well protected in most countries where they range and international regulations are clear. Also, smuggling large tusks internationally is highly conspicuous. Hippos offer a cheaper and, in many ways, “easier” ivory option. So effectively, when we’ve taken away the poachers’ and smugglers’ main target, they just adapted their strategy and ‘evolved’ their interest in another direction.
Find a group of wild-living African elephants and, often, they will either be tracked with radio collars or will be the focus of long-term conservation research, intensive ecotourism or determined law-enforcement efforts. But hippos? Well, the sad truth is that hippos don’t have their personal watchmen nor are they as protected on an international level. And that means that poachers can plan their business more thoroughly.
Most elephant populations are listed under the highest level (appendix I) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), but hippos are listed under appendix II of this multinational treaty, meaning some trade is possible. The problem here is that not only is it impossible to guarantee that a hippo tooth is legally sourced but that overall quotas are often massively exceeded. We have created a situation where “some” hippos can be shot, but we have few effective ways to regulate the trade, leaving it wide open to abuse.
It’s absolutely abhorrent that, for the sake of art or egos, no ivory-bearing beast is safe in the savanna anymore. People are working to stop this and many wildlife authorities do what they can, but until there is a real change in the demand for ivory, the hippo has joined the elephant in being in desperate need of our help.
It’s sad that the desire for an ivory ornament or piece of jewellery justifies the slaughter of a majestic elephant, but as their populations continue to crash, the ever-hungry black market has become creative in order to satisfy its greed. From arctic narwhals to pangolins and now hippos, when will it end? And all those animals need our active help and participation to help curtail illegal trade and educate people about the severe situation these species have found themselves in.