Are Hippos Endangered?

The hippopotamus is one of the most dangerous animals in Africa, but are they the ones that are truly in trouble? Are hippos endangered?

The IUCN has classified the hippos as a vulnerable species, with 115,000 – 130,000 individuals left due to habitat loss, climate change, and illegal hunting. We can help conserve hippos by protecting their habitats, educating people, and preventing poaching.

This article will look at the conservation status of hippos and the factors affecting their numbers.

Hippo walking on land

Endangered Status of Hippos

Although hippos have not been classified as endangered, their natural habitat has dwindled significantly in the last two centuries.

In 2008, The Red List Assessment described Common Hippopotamus populations as Vulnerable due to a sharp decline in population numbers experienced in the mid-1990s and early 2000s.

How Many Common Hippos Are Left?

IUCN’s recent assessment found that 115,000 – 130,000 common hippos are left.

While they can be found in several West African countries, their numbers tend to be smaller because of a lack of suitable habitat or the higher density of human populations.

The common hippo population varies significantly in size and distribution across its geographical range.

Let’s look at those differences to understand the existing populations better.

Hippo Populations in Western Africa

Common hippos are less abundant in Western Africa and generally found at lower densities. 

They only inhabit areas near large rivers, most abundantly in estuarine habitats and on the lower reaches of rivers. They are absent from the main rainforests.

The estimated population of Common Hippos in this region is around 7500 individuals living in 19 countries.

Among all the countries in the region, Cameroon and Burkino Faso have the largest populations of Common Hippos.

Hippo and her cub drinking water

Hippos Population in Southern Africa

Although no one has conducted an accurate headcount, it is estimated that around 60,000 Common Hippos are living in southern Africa.

Unfortunately, this region has also seen a decline in the hippo population due to civil unrest and war.

Common Hippos are largely found in Zambia, with recent estimates suggesting that the country continues to serve as a stronghold for the species.

Hippos Population in Eastern Africa

Common Hippos are found throughout East Africa, with the majority of them located in Tanzania.

Despite some population decline in recent years, an estimated 50,000 Common Hippos still live in Eastern Africa.

There have been reports of Hippos in Dinder National Park in Sudan, but it is unknown how many remain or what their current status is.

How Many Pygmy Hippos Are Left?

The actual size of the wild population of Pygmy hippos is something we don’t know. The 1993 IUCN Status Survey and Action Plan estimated a few thousand at most.

In 2008, the IUCN Red List assessment cited this estimate as 2,000-3,000 but suggested that this figure may be too high. 

As of right now, there are only 2,000 – 2,499 adult individuals left on the planet.

Endangered Pygmy Hippo Born at the San Diego Zoo

What Are the Threats the Hippos Population Faces?

The hippopotamus population is subject to various threats, leading to a decrease in numbers across different regions. 

These threats include:

Commercial and Residential Development

The construction of commercial and residential buildings endangers hippos by causing habitat loss and fragmentation.

This makes it harder for hippos to find potential mates and access food and water sources.

The likelihood of human-wildlife conflict is also rising, which often results in the death of one or both parties. 

Agriculture Development

The loss of habitat and conflict with agricultural endeavors are large-scale problems for hippo conservation. Because they rely on freshwater, Hippos compete for resources with humans.

This not only heightens their vulnerability but also reduces the chances for successful conservation across Africa.

Agricultural development near wetland areas is the most significant cause of habitat loss.

It often results in population fragmentation, where small groups of hippos are confined to protected areas with little or no management. 

It makes them vulnerable to pressure from local communities.

Illegal and Unchecked Poaching

Illegal hippo hunting is widespread in areas of civil unrest. At the beginning of the 21st century, surveys found that Common Hippo populations in DR Congo had declined by more than 95% due to eight years of fighting and intense hunting pressure.

Military forces during Mozambique’s civil war from 1980-1992 also caused a decline of more than 70% of the country’s hippo population.

Poachers killed hippos for the following reasons:

Meat 

Poaching animals for their meat is unfortunately common in Burkina Faso, Burundi, Ivory Coast, South Sudan, and other nations like Zambia.

Illegal Ivory Trade

According to the IUCN’s monitoring agency of international trade, the amount of illegal Hippo ivory exports increased in 2008. This was likely due to the ban on elephant ivory exports that went into effect in 1989.

The large canines that hippos use for self-defense have the same structural material as that of elephants’ tusks

Hippo ivory is slightly softer and easier to carve than elephant ivory, making it even more appealing. As a result, hippo numbers are rapidly decreasing.

Hippo tusks in open mouth

Climate Changes and Natural Systems Modifications

Climate change and natural ecosystem modification in the form of dams and water management are also critical reasons for decreased hippo numbers.

When these things happen, it alters the natural habitat of hippos and other local species, causing the areas to become degraded.

What Would Happen if Hippos Went Extinct?

If hippos were to go extinct, it would have detrimental effects on natural ecosystems.

Hippos are crucial in maintaining African fertility as they produce large amounts of dung.

They are also essential to food chains as fish consume the feces and parasites on hippos.

How We Can Help the Vulnerable Hippo

Though there are many areas where hippos are legally protected, some countries have poor law enforcement, and these animals are often found outside of the safe zones. 

We can help conserve hippos by putting rigorous efforts into the following aspects.

  • Habitat protection: One of the most important things we can do to help conserve hippos is to protect their habitats. It means protecting the sites where hippos live and the resources they have. This also means local infrastructures must be improved, so humans do not need to encroach.
  • Species management: Ex-situ conservation, or the artificial breeding of hippos in captivity, could be vital for the species’ future. By captive breeding, we can ensure that a healthy population of hippos can be released into the wild.
  • Training and Awareness: These are two areas where we can contribute largely on our own. This encompasses educating people via seminars and workshops about animal rights and how important hippos are for the environment and their natural habitat.
  • Legislation: We can prevent illegal poaching and other animal cruelty by implementing laws and policies on local, state, and national levels. Of course, these also need to be implemented.
How a long-distance love affair between two hippos is bringing awareness to conservation

Final Thoughts on the Endangered Status of Hippos

The hippo is a magnificent creature that has been around for centuries. However, they are now “vulnerable” due to illegal hunting, habitat loss, and climate change. There is still time to take action and help protect them. 

By working together on initiatives such as habitat protection, species management, and training and awareness programs, we can make a difference for these animals.

If we don’t act soon, hippos may disappear forever.

FAQs

Why Are Hippos Endangered?

Hippos are in danger of extinction due to climate change. These massive animals rely on freshwater systems for survival, but droughts and agricultural and water diversions threaten their populations. Moreover, commercial development, urbanization, and illegal poaching are other leading causes of the decline in hippo populations.

Are Hippos Endangered in 2022?

Although the number of hippos has declined significantly over the years, there is still enough genetic diversity among them that they are not yet classified as endangered by IUCN. The common hippos are considered vulnerable, while pygmy hippos are endangered.

Does Anything Eat a Hippo?

Lions, Nile crocodiles, and spotted hyenas are the only natural predators of young hippos. As far as other animals go, adult hippos aren’t usually preyed on because they’re so aggressive and big; there have been rare cases where a bunch of lions has taken one down. That said, humans in the area do hunt hippos for meat.