As hippos disappear, U.S. drags its feet on endangered species protections

As hippos disappear, U.S. drags its feet on endangered species protections

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

So much of our work to give imperiled animals the protections they deserve is a long game, and we’ve been going to the proverbial bat to preserve the hippopotamus for years. Just recently, we, along with one of our allies, sent notice of our intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for missing its deadline to decide whether the common hippopotamus should be protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. That deadline was set by a legal petition we filed, seeking federal protections for this imperiled species.

USA Today covered this key turn in our work to give hippos greater protections, and we’re grateful that the issue is gaining and sustaining attention.

Hippos are one of Africa’s most recognizable species and particularly beloved by children all over the world. These animals are a keystone species, which means their behaviors help shape and maintain landscapes and habitats and promote biodiversity. But habitat loss, climate change, drought and poaching are exacerbated by the international demand for hippo parts, including teeth, skulls, ivory, skin and meat, creating a perfect storm that is driving these animals toward extinction. It is estimated that as few as 115,000 hippos remain in the wild, and even this could be an overcount, since accurate and recent population counts are severely lacking.

The U.S. is the top importer of hippo parts; the blood of these animals is on the nation’s hands. The protections we asked for in our petition would place near-total restrictions on most commercial U.S. imports and sales of hippo parts and products. 

Between 2018 and 2023, we investigated merchants both in-person and online and found hundreds of parts and products made from hippos being sold in stores throughout the U.S. and online. The most common items for sale were made from hippo ivory, such as carvings and knife handles, and from hippo leather, such as purses, boots and belts. And yet, even as hippo populations decline, the U.S. government is still dragging its feet about prioritizing hippo protection.

Future generations stand to inherit a world in which hippos might no longer exist in the wild. When hippos, and indeed so many animals, face such severe existential threats from climate change and habitat loss, how can anyone justify trophy hunting these animals or crafting furniture and accessories made from their body parts? 

We’re pushing the U.S. to act now to spare hippos from suffering and to ensure the survival of this magnificent species for years to come. If no action is taken, we are fully prepared to file suit.

You can contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and urge the agency to protect hippos by listing them under the Endangered Species Act. You can also support our work to give hippos and other animals the protections they deserve by making a donation. 
Kitty Block is CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. 

As hippos disappear, U.S. drags its feet on endangered species protections

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