Hot off the press is our report on the Hippo Survey of Queen Elizabeth, all the more poignant this year for its ability to help monitor the current Anthrax outbreak that has so far resulted in the deaths of 82 hippos.
One of the greatest attractions in Queen Elizabeth Protected Area are hippo. Whether in the Ishasha River or the Kazinga Channel, hippo have always dominated the waterways of QEPA. At one time, QEPA – an area of almost 2000 km2 - had more mega herbivores per km2 than anywhere else in Africa. In the 1960s, the number was so high that they had turned grasslands to dust, and a cull was carried out to recover the habitat for all species.
During the 1970s and 1980s, severe poaching decimated wildlife numbers. Much improved park management and protection of key note species such as the elephant have helped greatly, but today killing hippos for meat remains the most frequent form of poaching. The frequency and impact of poaching is easy to see, with many of QE’s rivers and hippo pools noticeably empty.
In May 2006 the hippo was finally identified as a vulnerable species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, with an estimated global population of between 125,000 and 150,000 - a decline of between 7% and 20% since the IUCN's previous study in 1996. The hippo, like other mega herbivores, is key to shaping the habitat that many other species depend on.
The UCF-funded boat, based at Mweya, has been helping in the clean-up operation following the recent Anthrax outbreak. This is one of the four UCF-funded Waterways project boats in QE.
Over the past 100 years outbreaks of anthrax have also occurred in QE, with 300 hippo dying in 2004. This, combined with the above factors, continues to make the hippo population vulnerable.
Comment from UCF
The UCF /Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) survey involved three weeks of sometimes risky work across very difficult terrain: of uncharted swamps, fast-flowing rivers and turbulent lakes, all while on the look-out for hippo, a mammal responsible for more deaths across Africa annually than any other.
The survey team noted that hippo are very wary of humans where there is illegal fishing, highlighting the fact that poachers have been killing and smuggling hippo meat via boat. On the rivers, hippo tend to congregate in safe havens such as ranger camps. Far from the camps, they are easily scared, jumping out of the river when the team approached, an indication that man is an enemy to them.
A school of hippos in the Ishasha River in southern Queen Elizabeth National Park, bordering the DRC.
This survey engages a number of UCF projects including the Waterways Project which in QEPA comprises four Marine Ranger Stations, each equipped with power boats and all of the necessary equipment, and accredited training programme for 30 Marine Rangers as coxswains and 6 as trainers, giving UWA the capacity to tackle illegal activity on the lake and the wide expanse of lakes and rivers criss-crossing the Protected Area. Based on the data collected in the survey, UWA can now focus ranger patrolling against poachers even more accurately.
The value of this biannual survey, kindly supported by the SeaWorld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, is that it underpins UWA’s ability to protect and manage hippo and other species; fisheries; the economy and sustainable development of the local fishing villages; the habitat for all species; and develop the working relationship between the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the local communities.
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