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Saving one of West Africa’s last hippo populations

A new study in Tropical Conservation Science highlights the need for further conservation actions to save one of West Africa’s last hippo populations, located in southern Burkina Faso. Researchers surveyed 41 hippos in the ‘Mare aux Hippopotames’ Biosphere Reserve of Burkina Faso in 2008, up by six individuals since 2006, but down from a population of 68 in 1985. The hippos (Hippopotamus amphibious) remain threatened by possible conflict with locals and the fact that a number of their ponds are outside the protected area.

While surveying the hippo population, the researchers discovered that during the rainy season the hippos migrate to four temporary ponds outside of the protected area. From there they raid adjacent agricultural fields for food, putting in place the possibility of human-hippo conflict. The researchers recommend that these ponds be quickly placed under protection to ensure the long-term survival of the hippo population.

A common hippo in Botswana, Chobe National Park. Photo by: Tiffany Roufs.

In addition, the researchers say that the presence of the hippos could be a potential draw for tourists and provide additional income to local people. Already, write the scientists, locals have shown a willingness to protect the hippos.

“Local participation in conservation activities is probably greatly responsible for an increase in the size of the hippo population,” the authors write. Next, researchers plan to study whether or not this population of hippos has contact with any neighboring populations.

The common hippopotamus is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List due to habitat loss and poaching for meat and its teeth, which are sold as ivory. The species is continuing to decline throughout Africa. In places of political unrest declines can become steep: the Democratic Republic of Congo has lost 95 percent of its hippos to poaching. The species has long vanished from northern Africa including Egypt, Algeria, and Mauritania.

It is estimated that between 500 and 1000 hippos live in Burkina Faso, making the country one of the last hippo strongholds for West Africa.

CITATION: Dibloni, O. T., Vermeulen, C., Guenda, W. and Millogo, N. A. 2010. Effectif, structure d’âges et mouvements saisonniers des populations d’hippopotame commun, Hippopotamus amphibius Linné 1758 dans la Réserve de Biosphère de la Mare aux Hippopotames en zone sud soudanienne du Burkina Faso. Tropical Conservation Science Vol. 3 (2):175-189.

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