Hippos are again at risk of extinction

Hippos are threatened by climate change and poaching, especially from the ivory trade contained in their teeth

by Lorenzo Ciotti
Hippos are again at risk of extinction

Hippos are threatened by climate change and poaching, especially from the ivory trade contained in their teeth. Habitat loss is another factor that is leading to the decline of this majestic animal. Ten African countries will demand maximum protection of hippos at the next Conference of the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Panama.

The estimated population of hippos is less than 130,000. We need laws that protect the conservation of the species. Hippos tend to live in large groups and therefore their presence may be overestimated, but the data does not lie: the total population has been in constant decline for over 20 years.

The destruction of their habitat, if prevented, could easily cause the number of specimens to increase again. The proposal, if approved, would trigger a total international ban on the trade in hippo body parts. Which since 2016 are classified as vulnerable by the IUCN.

In all the territories in which it lives, this animal contributes to the survival of numerous other species and the contribution to the ecosystem of its habitat is considerable. By spreading its dung it fertilizes the prairies and the bottom of the rivers, in which consequently the aquatic creatures find a great abundance of nutritional principles.

In regions where these animals live in large numbers, fish reproduce in large quantities and several ungulates use equally well fertilized pastures. The ideal density would be 7.7 animals per square kilometer. In addition to this, there is a nice list of species that use the back of this animal as a place "to stay": birds (eyeshadow, sgarze, cattle egret), freshwater turtles and even small crocodiles.

The hippopotamus' habit of tearing up the razed grass in its grazing areas helps to avoid savannah fires in a three kilometer radius along the banks of waterways. In addition to saving the spots of trees, when it consumes its meal, this animal also protects them from fire: moreover, plants can multiply and some species that would end up disappearing are kept alive.

This sometimes causes serious trouble for hippos: in fact, trees and bushes can progressively invade the pastures causing the animal to disappear. Along the banks of the Mara River, in Kenya, there are certainly biological cycles (so long that it is difficult to follow them) prairie-forest-hippos: the development of plants drives away the animals deprived of grass, but attracts herbivores with a less restricted food, such as elephants.

The cycle can then begin again: the elephants eat the trees, whose regrowth phases are longer, giving way to the grass that attracts the hippos. Currently one of the two banks of the river is much more wooded and hippos are therefore quite rare.

Apparently, therefore, these animals could facilitate the growth of trees by becoming responsible for their own disappearance.