Hippos are pretty cool animals. Sure, they’re among the biggest and most dangerous land mammals on the planet, but just look at them. They’re so rotund and cute. You’d have to have a pretty hard heart to hate hippos.
But those cute, dangerous beauties could soon be threatened with extinction. In fact, the current status of the global hippo population is so precarious that 10 countries have proposed that the species should be added to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora’s (CITES) official list of endangered animals.
So what’s happening to hippos? Well, they face several threats. The ivory trade encourages killing hippos because ivory can be found in their teeth, while other hippo body parts are also traded for high prices. And on top of all that, climate change is reducing hippos’ access to fresh water and destroying their habitats.
All that means that there are only about 130,000 hippos left in the world, which might seem like a lot but it could actually be a whopping 20 percent fewer than there were in 1990. Despite that decline, trade for poachers is booming: according to The Guardian, 77,579 hippo parts and products were legally traded from 2009 to 2018.
A species only becomes officially ‘endangered’ when the CITES says so. Hippos are currently categorised as ‘appendix II’ by CITES, meaning they’re at risk of being threatened with extinction if trade isn’t controlled. Activists want hippos to be reclassified as ‘appendix I’, the highest level, which would make it completely illegal to trade in hippo body parts and ivory.
We won’t know for sure whether hippos will be classified as endangered or not until the next CITES meeting in Panama in November. If the proposal is successful, it’s likely that the hippo trade won’t just be subject to extra laws but that there’ll be a more dedicated international effort to rebuild the hippo population, too.
Did you see that there’s a load of rampaging cocaine hippos in Colombia?