To satisfy black market demand for ivory, poachers have turned to hippos. Hippopotamus teeth offer an unfortunate alternative as elephant populations plummet. But now the animals could face extinction – with one estimate suggesting the species could vanish within 100 years.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classifies hippos as vulnerable. Their populations have fallen in Africa as their habitats have shrunk, and they’ve been hunted for teeth, skin, and meat. They’re in trouble – but according to Anglia Ruskin University teaching fellow Ben Garrod, writing for The Guardian, “The simple truth is that they are not high on the priority list of the international conservation community.”
A study published earlier this year in the African Journal of Ecology dug into the issue; two researchers at the University of Hong Kong found discordance in trade data that they said could undermine regulatory measures and harm African hippo populations.
They said 90 percent of the global hippo teeth trade goes through Hong Kong. 75 percent of the imports come from Uganda or Tanzania. But Hong Kong declared a different volume of imports than the exports those two countries reported. The researchers think the trade in hippo teeth exceeds quotas that have been agreed upon internationally, saying more than 14,000 kilograms – around 30,865 pounds – are “unaccounted for between Uganda and Hong Kong, representing more than 2,700 individual hippos – two percent of the global population.”
According to Quartz, demand for hippo teeth spiked after a 1989 ban on the international trade of ivory from elephants. Also, it’s far less difficult to smuggle hippo teeth than elephant tusks.
Lead author Alexandra Andersson said in a statement, “It is imperative that authorities in both exporting and importing nations cross check the volumes of threatened species declared on paper to those actually received, work together to understand the cause of any discrepancies, as well as correct any reporting errors or fraudulent declarations. The fate of hippos – and a plethora of other species – could depend on it.”
Garrod said hippos now desperately need our help as do elephants, and will until there’s a change in the demand for ivory.