What happened to the hippos?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2005:
KAMPALA–Did anthrax kill the hippos, or was it poison?
What became of their teeth? Who was responsible?
“We have lost 287 hippos since July 2004,” Uganda Wildlife Authority
veterinary coordinator Patrick Atimnedi told fellow members of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases in March 2005.
“So far, we have lost about 11% of the hippo population.
“August 2004 was the peak of mortality,” Atimnedi continued,
“declining toward December. We were surprised with a resurgence from
“So far the source of infection is unclear,” Atimnedi
admitted. “[Mass] hippo mortalities have occurred in this park in
the last 50 years, usually in 10-year cycles. These, however,
would affect at most not more than 30 hippos, and were mainly
associated with drought.”
Atimnedi is certain that anthrax is the lethal agent. “All
cases are actually being investigated,” Atimnedi emphasized,
mentioning visits by foreign experts and samples sent to laboratories
outside Uganda to confirm his observations.
“The samples are mainly from hippos,” Atimnedi said, “but
there are also samples from waterbucks, kobs, buffalo, and one
warthog. We continue to investigate cases as they occur.
“Carcass disposal is done as soon as dead animals are
sighted,” Atimnedi explained. “Both marine and terrestrial
surveillance teams are sent out every morning and evening. The hippo
carcasses are immediately buried under lime, while other species,
especially buffalo, are burned on site. Ring vaccination of
livestock, coupled with intense community awareness education,
continues in high-risk areas.”
Atimnedi offered a textbook description of how to fight an
anthrax out break, but then there was the issue raised on April 20
by Gerald Tenywa of the Kampala New Vision.
“Many of the hippos were buried without teeth,” Tenywa
wrote. “This has prompted civil society sources to say some of them
were poisoned. Other sources say a Japanese trader based in Dubai,
who wants five tons of hippo teeth, could have fueled the killing of
the hippos. Hippo teeth,” a substitute for elephant tusk ivory,
“are used for making bangles, bracelets and necklaces that are in
high demand in Asia.”
Posing as a trader, Tenywa visited the scene, he wrote.
“Some fishers were keeping the teeth,” Tenywa found, “and an
unnamed trader had already bought some of them from Katungulu
The volume of hippo teeth on the market had apparently driven
the going price down by about 10%. Large numbers of teeth could be
obtained from various intermediaries in villages throughout the area.
“The largest stocks were in Katungulu and Kasenyi, on the fringes of
Lake George, within Queen Elizabeth Park,” Tenywa reported.
Acting Uganda Wildlife Authority executive director Moses
Mapesa pointed out that “The teeth from the hippos were contaminated
with bacteria, and there is no way we can allow anybody to deal in
such trophies.” Mapesa showed Tenwya a letter from wildlife trader
Ewa Smith Maku, who offered to buy the hippo teeth at the outset of
the anthrax outbreak. The Uganda Wildlife Authority turned him down.
“Maku dismissed allegations that he was behind the death of
some of the hippos, and instead implicated other traders dealing in
hippo teeth,” Tenywa wrote. “He declined to disclose where he was
intending to export the teeth and also denied being in contact with
the Japanese trader” from Dubai.
“Vincent Odworu, a councillor in Kikorongo, Katwe
sub-county, said traders made frequent trips to the park at the time
when hippos were dying,” Tenywa concluded.
“He could not name the traders, but described one of them as
‘of brown complexion.’ He said some fishers ate meat from the
carcasses, defying warnings from the UWA that they could contract
anthrax. ‘All those people ate the meat, and they were not
harmed,'” said Odworu, “adding that it was not clear why they were
not killed by the anthrax,” after removing the teeth from the dead
hippos with axes and acid.
Anthrax cover for poison?
One possibility might be that the hippo remains were
contaminated with anthrax after they were poisoned and their teeth
removed, to discourage close investigation.
Another hypothesis might be that the 2004 deaths resulted
from an authentic natural anthrax outbreak, which “recurred” after
locals discovered a strong market for hippo teeth, and along the way
became annoyed by hippo invasions of crops–like the residents of
Port Bell, much closer to the capital city of Kampala, whose
elected representatives raised a ruckus about three marauding hippos
at Christmas 2004.
Poisoning, meanwhile, is among the most common yet hardest
to detect of poaching methods, limited chiefly by the risk of poison
tainting the meat and other marketable parts of the victim animals.
Nathan Etengu of New Vision on May 10, 2005 disclosed that
Mount Elgon National Park chief ecosystem w arden Joseph Serugo and
Pian-Upe Wildlife Sanctuary assistant warden David Abaho on April 24
discovered that wardens from the Namalu government prison farm,
Ugandan soldiers, and various others had mixed the pesticide
diamacrone with white gin to kill more than 80 storks.
“They disposed of the intestines and ate the meat,” Abaho
said. Poison accumulated in the discarded intestines brought the
case to light, after dogs and chickens ate the intestines and died.
In South Africa the next day, National SPCA wildlife unit
manager Rick Allan described to the Johannesburg Star how poachers
poisoned a water hole at the Lumpepe-Nwanedi Nature Reserve with the
insecticide aldicarb, sold as Temik. The poisoning killed five
endangered white rhinos, two zebras, three blue wildebeest, three
impalas, 10 nyalas, seven warthogs, and numerous birds and
baboons,” the Star said. “The horn of one of the white rhinos was
Well-known to South African criminals, aldicarb has been
extensively used by burglars to poison guard dogs.
In Cameroon, far to the west of Uganda, wildlife
authorities hinted that there might be an association of anxthrax
with the bushmeat traffic.
Two chimpanzees and two gorillas found dead in the Dja Game
Reserve during late 2004 marked “the first time that anthrax–an
acute and potentially fatal disease usually found in cattle, sheep
and goats–has been detected in gorillas and chimps in Cameroon,”
Officially the anthrax killed them, and did not merely
infest their bodies, but “We cannot deny that these highly valued
species of animals are being poached,” Cameroon national director of
wildlife Stephen Tarkang Ebai said, warning citizens against
scavenging the remains of animals found dead.
Whatever happened to the Queen Elizabeth Park hippos, the
Uganda Wildlife Authority has become testy about further reports of
anthrax. On May 4, for instance, Isaac Kalembe of New Vision
quoted tourism minister Jovino Akaki Ayumu and Damian Akanwasa, one
of the UWA directors, about anthrax allegedly recurring in Lake
Mburo National Park.
“We have lost some 40 zebras since May 2002,” Ayumu
testified to the parliamentary tourism, trade and industry committee.
“Tests established the cause as anthrax.”
Sound as the New Vision report seemed, the UWA denied it the
next day through the rival Kampala Monitor. “UWA management wishes
to make categorically clear that the mandate to declare any animal
disease outbreak, or any emerging animal disease, lies with the
Commissioner of Livestock, Health and Entomology in the Ministry of
Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries,” the UWA declared.
Translation: reports of anthrax occurring among hooved stock
could play hell with Ugandan livestock exports.
Longterm vision needed
Despite the recent rise in lethal wildlife exploitation,
two-time former Kenya Wildlife Service chief Richard Leakey warned at
an early May 2005 seminar at the State University of New York at
Stony Brook that climate change is a bigger threat to elephants,
tigers, and rhinos than poaching. As habitat becomes stressed,
wildlife reserve neighbors are driven by thirst and hunger to
encroach upon the reserves. Wildlife is more inclined to wan der
outside protected limits. Crop failures due to drought tend to
escalate reactions against crop-raiding and stimulate poaching.
Current examples include parts of Zambia, South Luanga
Conservation Society chief executive officer Rachel McRobb told
Sandra Lombe of the Lusaka Post on May 4.
“Due to the partial drought and crops being destroyed, there
will be an increase in poaching this year,” McRobb warned. “A number
of elephants have been shot. Some people are using muzzle loaders,”
The Wildlife Conservation Society “has reformed 32,000 people
from being dependent on poaching to living on agriculture,” in
Eastern Province, Zambia, wrote Stephen Kapambwe in the May 2
edition of the Times of Zambia, but drought may reverse the gains if
food security slumps.
“Are there new land use regimes that could be put in place
which would extend the possibility of ecosystems getting through a
climate change era?” Leakey asked. “Are there things that could be
done artificially that would make it less likely that we would see
extinction? Should we visit the whole issue of ex-situ as opposed to
“There are an awful lot of people around the world who have
lots of ideas on this,” Leakey said, “but nobody seems to be
addressing this in a co-ordinated way.”
Leaders seek quick returns
Discussion of longterm reform of African wildlife and habitat
management tends to be swiftly sidetracked into get-rich-quick
Threats to wildlife in Kenya come from both the rural poor,
as everywhere else, and private landholders who are anxious to cash
in on the perceived profit potential in trophy hunting before the
boom fades along with the Baby Boom generation of European and
Five months after Kenya President Emilio Mwai Kibaki vetoed a
bill by legislator G.G. Kariuki that nearly repealed the 1977
national ban on sport hunting, Kariuki has reintroduced a similar
measure, again disguised as a bill to compensate neighbors of
wildlife reserves for animal damage.
The boom has waned already, with probably more money
changing hands now in speculative traffic in animals to be shot than
in actual revenue from hunters, but the effect is
disguised–temporarily–by the collapse of trophy hunting in
Zimbabwe. Invasions of farms and private game ranches by landless
supporters of the Robert Mugabe regime have compounded the effects of
drought, driving most of the hunters who patronized Zimbabwe in the
1990s to other nations.
With no hunters coming, “President Robert Mugabe’s regime
has directed officials to kill animals in conservation areas to feed
hungry peasants–a move that could wipe out what remains of impalas,
kudus, giraffes, elephants and other species,” wrote Basildon Peta
of the Pretoria News on April 27, 2005.
“National Parks officials said the recent shootings of 10
elephants for barbecue meat to mark Zimbabwe’s 25 years of
independence had been carried out in the broad context of this
directive,” Peta added. “The 10 elephants were killed by National
Park rangers. Four were reportedly shot in full view of tourists
near Lake Kariba.”
The hot-button wildlife issue for animal advocates in South
Africa is a new set of rules for the captive lion hunting industry,
to take effect on July 1, 2005. Former Kalahari Raptor Centre
operators Chris and Bev Mercer in February 2005 published Canned Lion
Hunting: A National Disgrace, a book-length critique of the rules,
including submissions from many other leading South African wildlife
Focused on the philosophy of South African wildlife
management, the Mercers acknowledge that their critique will
probably not receive serious consideration from the powers-that-be.
But the demographics and economics of the trophy hunting industry
suggest that hunting captive-reared lions will not be a very
profitable business for most of the present participants anyhow
within less than 10 years.
The prestige of game ranchers is already sinking. In late
March 2005, for instance, South African Environmental Affairs and
Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk ordered the South African
National Park Service (SANParks) to investigate allegations that the
Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, adjacent to Kruger National Park,
is exploiting wildlife from Kruger by promoting “hunting in the
buffer zones, where fences have been dropped.”
About 71% of the revenue from Timbavati comes from hunting.
Van Schalkwyk indicated that game ranchers operating in buffer zones
is a problem at other parks, as well.
The most notorious recent incident involving a game farmer
was the April 27 murder conviction of Mark Scott Crossley, 37, who
operated a construction business from his brother’s Engedi Game Farm,
On January 31, 2004 Crossley and employees Simon Mathebula,
Richard Mathebula, and Robert Mnisi allegedly tied former employee
Nelson Chisale, 41, to a tree and severely beat him, then threw
him to the lions at the Mokwalo White Lion Project, 12 miles away.
Mokwalo co-owner Albert “Mossie” Mostert figured prominently in a
1997 expose of South African canned lion hunting, produced by Roger
Cook of The Cook Report, a British TV magazine show.
Simon Mathebula was convicted with Crossley, Richard
Mathebula will stand trial after recovering from tuberculosis, and
Mnisi turned state witness to avoid prosecution.
A case with similar racial overtones erupted in Kenya as the
Crossley trial was underway. Tom Gilbert Patrick Cholmondeley, 37,
was charged on April 28 with murdering Kenya Wildlife Service ranger
Samson ole Sisina.
“Sisina and three wardens were investigating a suspected game
meat syndicate operating between Naivasha and Nairobi,” reported
Antony Gitonga of the East African Standard. “The KWS staff
allegedly spotted ranch workers carrying a buffalo carcass in a Land
Rover. They followed the workers to the Soysamba ranch, where they
allegedly found them skinning the buffalo. Naivasha police boss
Simon Kiragu said the officers identified themselves and arrested 16
workers. He said Cholmondeley rushed to the ranch slaughterhouse
when he learned of the arrests and confronted the KWS officials,
leading to a scuffle in which Sisima was shot. The workers also
allegedly beat up the other KWS staff.”
Added Daniel Howden of the London Independent, “The
accused’s grandfather, Hugh Cholmondeley, the third Baron Delamere,
was prominent in establishing Britain’s colonial presence in Kenya.
He fell in love with the country during a 1895 hunting expedition,
and set up the beef and dairy interests his grandson now runs.”
Noted Francis Ngige of the East African Standard, “Several
[of the Cholmondeley ranches], including Soysamba, have numerous
buffalo, giraffe, impala and warthogs.”