In the News...
June 2008

The World Conservation

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This month's stories:

Escaped Hippos May be Killed

Wandering hippos and a mystery plan to destroy the transgressors are under the spotlight in the Great Fish River Reserve area, east of Grahamstown.

Wildlife and Environment Society Grahamstown branch chairperson Irene de Moor said the society had first got wind of the plan last year and had been following it ever since.

"Our understanding was up to 20 hippos had got out of the reserve. We communicated with the Eastern Cape Parks Board, the agency managing the reserve, and conveyed our concerns and proposals regarding this approach.

"They said there had been many complaints from farmers, and serious financial damage had been caused.

"We subsequently heard that they had passed a resolution to destroy the hippos - and now there are rumours that this could begin at any time.

De Moor said the society was well aware that hippos could pose a threat to people and property if not managed properly, and that they were notoriously difficult to capture.

"The safety of farm workers is especially a concern.

"But this is a species that is listed as vulnerable on the World Conservation Union's red data list. All non-lethal measures should be investigated and destroying them should only be a last resort."
Besides the reserve, the properties along the Fish River include Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, a number of game farms and a few cattle farms.

One of the options could be to erect an electric fence along the section where the cattle farms bordered the river, as this was where the conflict was apparently occurring, she said.

Eastern Cape Parks Board scientific services head Dave Balfour said he was not aware of any plan to destroy the hippos.

The Great Fish Reserve had a core group of about 25 hippos, but there was no fence across the river so the animals moved freely, he explained.

 "Fencing a river is difficult because the structure can be destroyed by floods. Besides the tourism value, because these are big animals containing them will inevitably have an impact on the ecosystem and on them."

Dale Howarth, chairman of the private game reserves' association Indalo, said the group was ready to work in conjunction with the board to recapture any wandering hippos, but had heard nothing of any recent escapes.

"It's very dry at the moment, so if any of them did wander we would put some lucern in a passive boma and that should work. We would be very unhappy if an animal was destroyed, if it was not posing a threat."

Source: and – 19 and 20 June 2008

Kenyan Biofuel Project Threatens Hippos

The Tana delta, which lies 120 miles north of the coastal city of Mombasa and drains Kenya's longest river, is a mix of savannah, mangrove swamps, forest and beaches

Kenya has approved a controversial biofuel project that environmentalists say could destroy some of the country's most pristine wetlands. More than 80 sq miles of the Tana river delta is scheduled to become a sugar cane plantation, with much of the crop turned into ethanol in a purpose-built factory. The area is home to lions, hippos, reptiles, primates, rare sharks and 345 bird species, and sustains thousands of farmers and fishermen whose protests have been largely ignored, according to campaigners. 

Paul Matiku, executive director of Nature Kenya, a Nairobi-based conservation group, described the proposed development by Mumias Sugar, a locally listed firm, as "an ecological and social disaster" that would cause heavy drainage of the delta.

"It will seriously damage our priceless national assets and will put the livelihoods of the people living in the delta in jeopardy," he said.

The merits of growing biofuels are the source of increasingly acrimonious debate in east Africa, where vast tracts of open land in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania are attracting the attention of local and international agriculture firms hoping to cash in on the demand from the US and the European Union for clean energy sources such as ethanol. 

Sources: The Guardian (UK - online) – 24 June 2008

Illicit Hippo Ivory Trader Convicted

A wealthy British antique dealer and watchmaker described as the mastermind of a successful ivory and whale-tooth smuggling operation was convicted of dealing in endangered species yesterday. Michael Elliot, 56, pleaded guilty to seven charges at Southwark Crown Court. 

When they raided his home in Gravesend, Kent, in 2005, detectives discovered 18 illegal elephant tusks, almost 200 carved hippopotamus ivory figures and cane handles and 58 sperm whale teeth worth in total more than £50,000. They also discovered £34,000 in cash, which has been confiscated as the proceeds of crime as part of a separate investigation by Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Squad. 

Poaching in the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo has left what was once the world’s greatest concentration of hippopotamuses near annihilation, with numbers falling from 22,000 to just a few hundred. Elephant numbers in the park have fallen from 3,500 to 350. 

Documents found at the house detailed his business dealings in Hong Kong and China, and a fax from the Black Sea port of Odessa gave the values of sperm whale teeth. A photograph showed Elliot at a Chinese ivory factory. 

Elliot pleaded guilty to seven charges under the Control of Trade in Endangered Species Regulations and Customs offences. He disclaimed ownership of 18 ivory tusks, worth £50,000, and the charge was left on file. He was sentenced to a total of two years in prison, suspended for two years. 

After the sentencing it was disclosed that Elliot now faces prosecution in the United States, where he is suspected of organising ivory and sperm whale teeth smuggling from Britain. His operation was said to be the biggest of its kind detected in Britain and the US.

Source: Brown, D. of the – 14 June 2008 and the BBC (online) 13 June 2008

Wandering Hippo Settles Down and Gets a Name

The wandering hippopotamus - spotted cavorting along Ballito's shorebreak in late May - appears to have settled down in Tinley Manor on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast of South Africa, the Mercury reported on Tuesday. 

Ecologist Paul Dutton said hippo tracks were spotted between Tinley Manor and Christmas Bay. He said the tracks were also spotted in a garden of a Tinley Manor home at the weekend. "The fresh water supply in the area could be keeping him there," he said. 

Meanwhile, the hippo finally has a name!  Mary Ann Grafetsberger of Durban was the winner of the competition to name the hippo run by a local newspaper, The Mercury. 

The winning name, “Nkululeko,” which is the Zulu word for freedom, is the opposite of what the animal is experiencing in its lonely wanderings up and down the coast.

KwaZulu-Natal Ezemvelo Wildlife spokesperson Maureen Zimu said it seemed Nkululeko was a male who had been bullied out of a herd in its natural habitat hundreds of kilometres to the north. 

"He's hiding in the bushes during the day and then coming out in the evening to eat. He seems to be a very shy hippo," she said.

Wildlife authorities last week issued a stern warning to the public to stay away from the hippo.
KwaZulu-Natal Ezemvelo spokesperson Jeff Gaisford told Sapa: "A bite from a hippo is usually fatal to a human being". 

"If you leave it alone, it will leave you alone because if it doesn't like you, it will attack," he said.

For more information on this hippo please see the May 08 issue of this Newsletter.

Source: and – 3 June 2008

Woman and Infant Killed by Hippo

A mother with an infant strapped on her back were last Thursday mauled to death by a hippo after they were tossed into the Zambezi River when the pachyderm wildly rammed a rubber boat ferrying them to Zambia for shopping.

Last Friday Masubia Chief Kisco Liswani III who received the news from one of the daily tribal briefings he holds with his coterie of advisers, narrated this heart-rending saga.

The chief said the incident took place in the Schuckmannsburg area.

After it rammed the boat, the enraged hippo shredded it to pieces using its tusks.

At the time tragedy struck shoppers were rowing and steering the engineless rubber boat towards mid-stream in the direction of Mwandi in Zambia, where they often go shopping due to lack of shops and basics on the Namibian side of the river.

The beast would have mauled more people from the boat but most fortunate for them villagers in dugout canoes in Zambia who witnessed the horrific incident immediately came to their rescue, plucking them from the river into the canoes away from harm's way.

On compensation Liswani III feels ideally problem animals such as elephants and hippos should be hunted down and villagers should receive the meat, regarded as a delicacy.

And previous resolutions for villagers to benefit from the game meat of 'trouble animals' and for traditional authorities to be allocated trophy money are yet to be realised.

Liswani III expressed concern that 18 years after independence retailers still shun the Schuckmannsburg area, prompting villagers to undertake risky trips to Zambia across the Zambezi River under whose surface hippos and crocodiles lurk waiting to attack.

He estimates the number of lives lost each year to hippo and crocodile attacks on the Zambezi River stretching from Katima Mulilo to Impalila to range in the dozens.

Source: Inambao, C. of New Era via – 23 June 2008

Hippos are Main Attraction at Pablo Escobar’s Ranch

The main attraction at a new amusement park in central Colombia is a family of hippopotamuses, originally imported from Africa. Their home is not a zoo or Wildlife Park, but the former estate of one of the world's most notorious drug lords.  

The government confiscated what is now a 3,700-acre ranch in 1989 after Escobar ordered the killing of a popular presidential candidate.  He left behind a vast compound called Hacienda Napoles, a few hours outside Medellin. 

The drug lord commissioned a bull fighting ring, wild Animal Park and huge dinosaur models to entertain guests at his ranch. 

Last year, local investors rebuilt many of the original features at Hacienda Napoles and opened a theme park.  ''We believe the ranch could be an attraction to bring back tourists to the region,'' said Oberdán Martínez, who cheerfully oversees the ranch for Ayuda Tecnica, which has a 20-year concession to manage it.  

Jungle safari music and drumming greet visitors as they buy tickets ($8 apiece) to enter. ''Here begins a truly wild adventure,'' reads a sign above the entrance.

A few signs describe Escobar's history of violence and cocaine trafficking, which at its peak in the late 1980s is said to have generated $30 billion a year.  Some of the money went for lavish purchases, such as three African hippos. They now live on a lagoon on the property. 

Sandra Ocampo is a park worker at the Hacienda Napoles. She says the animals have thrived far from their native habitat, even with little human help. "For 17 years no one here fed them, but they managed to survive on the natural vegetation. Now they are the main attraction here at the park, because this is one of few places where they have bred in a natural habitat," she said.

Water loving Hippos reside in the Hacienda Napoles animal habitat and theme park.  The original three hippos reproduced and there are now 22 of the huge, water-loving animals in Hacienda Napoles. 

One of the most recent additions is Vanessa, a 14-month-old female which is receiving special treatment from park employees.  Because Vanessa lives in a separate area, park employees say she is unknown to the rest of the herd.  

A park employee says, "Each day Vanessa receives 12 liters of a special milk formula, as well as grass, carrots and salt. She cannot visit the big lagoon, otherwise the other hippos might kill her because she does not belong to their group." 

But even at Hacienda Napoles, space is running out for the hippos, as the hippos continue to reproduce. "Some of the hippos have been taken to zoos. A couple disappeared up the river when they were forced out by the lead male, and a few have died. Most of those who have died were killed by the lead male," Ocampo said.

Source: Bridges, T. of the Miami Herald (online) – 29 June 2008 and Wagner, B. of – 2 July 2008

Jessica Deemed “Potentially, Extremely Dangerous”

Jessica the hippo, who starred in the Leon Schuster movie, Mr Bones has been found to be "potentially, extremely dangerous" in a report released by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).
The eight-year-old hippo was adopted by former game ranger Tonie Joubert and his wife, Shirley, after she was washed up on the banks of the Selati River near Hoedspruit in Limpopo as a day-old calf in the 2000 floods. 

She is so tame that she drinks coffee from a bottle, shares dog pellets with the couple's dogs and sleeps under a blanket at night. 

When their neighbour, Sybrand van Vuuren, allegedly threatened to shoot her because she was damaging his vegetable crops, which he farms for the Woolworths and Pick 'n Pay supermarket chains, Woolworths commissioned the EWT's wildlife conflict prevention group to investigate the matter. 

Group manager Tim Snow found that Jessica posed a threat to humans as she grew older.
"Because of her dietary needs and her age, Jessica is wandering more and more frequently on to neighbouring properties. This poses a potential risk to human safety and, more seriously, to human life," reads his report. 

Snow also expressed concern that Jessica was now sexually mature and could have calves.
"In wild hippos, females are highly protective of their young and become extremely aggressive towards any intruder," he says in the report. 

He said Van Vuuren had shown him where Jessica was believed to have damaged plumbing and a fly-screen door. 

The report includes pictures of Jessica interrupting a braai (=BBQ) at Van Vuuren's house and raised the question of whether the Jouberts would be liable if she ever harmed anyone or their property. 

It was also noted that the Jouberts might be reluctant to get rid of Jessica because tourists paid R70 (~US$10) each to interact with her. 

On the day Snow visited the Jouberts, about 70 people visited Jessica, he said. 

He warned that surprise encounters with hippos were often fatal for humans in Africa. 

"An adult female weighs about 2 000 kilograms and even an unintentional trampling by a hippo running back to the safety of a river could be fatal. This dangerous scenario exists with Jessica right now," said Snow. 

He has advised Van Vuuren to use electrical fencing to keep Jessica at bay and that the Jouberts cover the costs. 

If the Jouberts and Van Vuurens disagree, then Jessica should be taken to a conservation area, said Snow, to live with wild hippos and as far from human contact as possible, or, as an absolutely final alternative, be donated to a zoo. 

Woolworths' head of foods, Julian Novak, said the company was still assessing Snow's report and gave the assurance that Van Vuuren had undertaken not to harm Jessica. 

"Mr Van Vuuren has said he does not intend to harm Jessica. He has assured Woolworths that he has never had any intention of harming her," said Novak. 

A spokesperson for the Jouberts, Harriet Pratten, did not return any messages left for her regarding the report.

For past articles on "Jessica" please visit our April 2008 Newsletter

Source: - 3 June 2008

May 08 Articles Archives