Our undercover investigation reveals why hippos desperately need federal protections under the Endangered Species Act

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on March 24, 2022 with 18 Comments

With their barrel shape, huge teeth and jaws that can open to almost 180 degrees, hippos are characteristically unique and one of the world’s most recognizable animals. Hippos are also a keystone species: As “ecosystem engineers,” their behavior helps shape and maintain landscapes and habitats and promote biodiversity. Their presence is indispensable to the African lake and river areas they inhabit.

Yet these magnificent animals face a high risk of extinction and are disappearing from the wild. Habitat loss due to human activity, climate change and drought threaten hippos’ survival, and these threats are further exacerbated by poaching and the ivory trade. Our recent undercover investigation reveals the current—and growing—interest in hippos and their parts from both traders and trophy hunters.

During the past decade, collectors in 60 countries imported over 75,000 hippo parts and products (equivalent to nearly 13,500 individual animals). Collectors in the United States were responsible for bringing in more hippo parts and products—including thousands of teeth, trophies, skins and more—than their counterparts in any other country.

The U.S. also has the unfortunate distinction of harboring the most trophy hunters. They travel thousands of miles overseas and pay thousands of dollars to shoot and kill hippos in the water, likely while the animals are resting. Many hunters leave the hippos’ corpses behind and return home with just 12 teeth as their “trophies.” (The teeth often end up mounted and displayed, either on a wooden plaque or in a replica hippo shoulder mount.)

This selfish slaughter must stop. That’s why we’re calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list hippos under the Endangered Species Act and help protect them from this cruel and ecologically reckless trade. Doing so would significantly restrict the U.S. import and sales of hippo items—a vital, urgent step toward enhanced protection of hippos in the wild.

One item for sale at the Safari Club International convention in 2019 included a table made with a hippo skull intended to serve as “home décor.”

Our undercover investigation revealed a thriving market of hippo parts and products available in stores throughout the United States and on websites, including carved tusks; ivory-handled knives; purses, belts and boots made of hippo skin; and a table made with a hippo skull intended to serve as “home décor.”

Some of the items we found in the United States may have been illegally acquired or traded due to the lack of effective law enforcement. Our comprehensive analysis revealed that a very large and biologically significant amount of hippo poaching, trafficking and illegal trade continues today. We estimate that in just four short years (2016 to 2020), over 6,750 hippos were illegally killed, but this number is likely a fraction of the true total—given the very nature of the trade, we can’t know for sure.

In our undercover investigation, sellers were vague and unclear about how their products were obtained. Some of the items were offered for sale at Safari Club International’s conventions in Nevada, a state that generally prohibits selling or purchasing products made from hippos. Our investigation revealed sellers suggesting that buyers skirt Nevada state law by ordering online and having items shipped to their homes.

As the largest consumer market for hippo parts and products, the United States must act swiftly to save these iconic mammals. No current U.S. or international law adequately protects hippos from these threats to their survival, but together, we can end our nation’s role in exacerbating the dangers this vulnerable species already faces—all while bringing awareness to one of the most well-recognized and celebrated icons of African biodiversity.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. Diana Lewis says:

    Please list hippos under the Endangered Species Act!

  2. Ewa Ewa Stein says:

    Please keep hippos under the Endangered Species Act and help protect them from this cruel and ecologically cruel trade. this way you significantly restrict the U.S. import and sales of hippo items. This is very important step toward strong protection of hippos in the wildlife.

  3. Carole Chen-Garson says:

    This is barberic

  4. Neil Nembhard says:

    Hippos need to be protected from being hunted and therefore I urgently urge the U.S. Fishing & Wildlife Services to list them under the Endangered Species Act so that the hunting of these animals can stop before it’s too late.

  5. Melissa Foglia says:

    Ok. We know US investors and sports enthusiasm creates the market for Hippos.
    The team of HSUS have seen illegal Hippo paraphernalia being legally sold at US convention centers.
    So what are the next steps to make selling teeth, ivory, etc illegal?
    The shows will continue as long as there’s a market , the state of Nevada won’t step in and put a stop to it. Can conservation groups make t happen? Are there ways to video tape the sales and merchants selling the illegal items. Without evidence no one will raise an eyebrow..

  6. Laura Congdon says:

    These animals are Beautiful creatures and they deserve our protection. Please protect them so they will be around for generations to come.

  7. Gay Smith says:

    These animals are part of Gods creation. I don’t understand people that have to abuse them as trophies. This has got to stop immediately.

  8. JoAyn Dana says:

    I dont even want to know people who want a home full of dead animals for decor. How disgusting!

  9. Florence Assalit says:

    In aall countries I can’t believe the USA is involved in the killing of Hippos! Absolutely absurd. How can we lead the world and be part of this terrible act towards possibly extinction of Hippos. This Safari club should be punish ed big time. What is next for this planet? What will it take to end all of this? This is greed and needs to stop now!!!!!

  10. Jean Langford says:

    Save hippos! This is tragic! JLangford in north Arkansas

  11. Janis Branneky says:

    Please do everything you can to help hippos thrive. Please end hippo trade.

  12. Dawn Leslie Kerr says:

    I can’t believe these people kill and destroy these beautiful animals to make tables and knives out of their skulls and bones. How morbid !! What a waste of a majestic animal that was created with God’s hands. Just as you and I. This is just another animal injustice that must stop !! What are we leaving for our children and grandchildren, except for photos of our once thriving wilderness. This is a ridiculous practice and a waste of many beautiful creatures lives. These animals were not put on this Earth for us to butcher and make trinkets out of their flesh and bones. STOP killing our wildlife. Most of us enjoy watching these animals thrive in their own environment, not made into tables and useless items for display purposes. Find another hobby !!

  13. Christine Harvey Lawrence says:

    We must stop this nonsense. People just have to realize killing others is wrong PERIOD. We don’t have the right to kill. This is human character at its worst. Grow up stop the crazy and do something good in the world. Pay for a thousand trees to be planted.

  14. Erika says:

    in search for the situation of the hippopothamus population , i found your article . As the link to the petition did not clear things out for me , my ? if laws have been changed in the meanwhile , as we are september going october now

    Thanks in advance for the update
    solidary greetings from Europe

    • Blog Editor says:

      Unfortunately things have currently not changed since the proposal was published, but things might soon change for hippos. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is due to release their initial opinion on the proposal which would kick off the review process. Listings under the Endangered Species Act takes a long time and often many years. We continue to closely monitor the progress of the Endangered Species Act review.

      On an international level, regulations governing hippo commercial trade will be deliberated at the upcoming CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Conference of the Parties in November 2022. Ten African countries submitted a proposal to increase commercial trade regulations for hippos. If successful, this would be a huge step toward their conservation.

  15. Dawn Mello says:

    I’m sorry but they sold out to the highest bidders a while ago.

  16. Agat says:

    Hippos aren’t endangered.

    I know they’re charismatic, but maybe endangered species should be given priority?

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