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The Kruger National Park is considering culling hippos to save them from drought, and the meat will be given to neighbouring communities.

©Chris Eason
©Chris Eason

There are over 8,000 hippos around the Kruger National Park and some of them have died as some streams and water sources have been dry for months.

Nevertheless, 197 millimetres of rain was recorded this week in some parts of the park.

South African National Parks (SANParks) has indicated that the rain was too little too late and vulnerable and sensitive animals like hippos will continue to die.

The Kruger National Park, which is more than the size of Gauteng province, has survived two severe droughts in the past – in 1980 and 1992. Although animals falling under the Big Five are mostly drought and heat resistant, animals such as hippos have started dying.

Hippos need more water to survive as they spend more time under water.

SANParks spokesperson Isaac Phaahla says the rain that fell around the Kruger National Park is not enough to save vulnerable animals from dying due to drought.

“We are grateful for the little rain that we have but I think it is too little to late. We have seen the devastation that the drought has caused to vegetation, but according to our scientists, this is good for the ecosystem of the Kruger Park. So we are still going to see some mortality of animals that are much weaker and that are sickly, but those who are still strong and are able to move to food reserves and back to the water sources are going to survive,” says Phaahla.

Culling is one of the best options the park is considering to save hippos from drought. The meat will be given to surrounding communities as part of harmonising relations between the communities and the park.

Neighbouring communities often complain that some animals force their way out of the park and feed on their crops and livestock such as goat and cattle.

If the drought is not broken, and the grazing land inside the park continues to be reduced, more animals may escape from the park and feed on community crops.

Desmond Andrews says that giving the hippo meat to the surrounding communities will also be a way of preventing them from poaching animals inside the Kruger.

“The big impact that we are seeing now during this current drought at this point in time is with our hippo population, because the hippo population is larger than it has ever been in the park’s history – about 8,000 animals at the moment,” says Andrew.

At the nearby Limpopo National Park in Mozambique, management is relocating indigenous communities residing within the park as an anti-poaching strategy.

The park’s manager Antonio Abacar says government believes that some of the over 500 households affected by the re-settlement have been contributing to the poaching of rhinos and other animals in the Kruger National Park.

On Sunday a suspected poacher was shot and killed while a ranger was wounded inside the Kruger National Park.

The Southern Africa Wildlife College near Hoedspruit says they are giving aerial and dog support to the Kruger National Park to fight poaching.

College spokesperson Ruben de Kock says they have two aircraft to trace poachers.

“We have two aircrafts at the moment and we are hoping to get another one. The aircrafts are hovering every single day for SANParks. We assemble data and, if poachers come into the area, we can send tracking dogs and stop those poachers from having time to shoot the rhinos,” says de Kock.

One of the rangers, Kali Ubisi, says their job is becoming more dangerous as poachers use high calibre weapons that they also aim at rangers.

He says rangers, in turn, are also using military strategies to fight poachers.

Meanwhile, Phaahla says they are not winning the war on rhino poaching.

“We can’t say that we are winning. We know the battle is a tough one and is going to be a very long one, but we are encouraged that last year, after 10 years, we did not have an increase in a number of animals that have died. Even though the incursion had increased by 170%, we are able as  SANParks, within the Kruger National Park, to disrupt poaching gangs. But we would like efforts to be matched outside the park by law,” says Phaahla.

SANParks is also spending ZAR16 million a year on a pilot project in which a private company is providing aerial support in tracking down poachers around the park at night.

To find out more about hippos, read: Hooray for Hippos

Time and Tide
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