Figure 10: Distribution of Hippo in Africa
Analysis 4: Status of hippo in Africa
Historically, the common hippopotamus occupied an extensive
range in Africa and was considered abundant. Although the
species still occurs widely throughout the continent its dispersion
is patchy and uneven (Figure
10). HSG (1993, S.K. Eltringham - pp43-54) estimated the
total population of Africa at about 157,000 animals of which
7,000 occurred in West Africa, 70,000 in East Africa and 80,000
in Southern Africa.
It is a curious reflection on current conservation values
that the hippopotamus, with a continent wide population of
less than 200,000 animals (HSG 1993) is classified as having
a satisfactory conservation status under the IUCN Red Data
Book system ('widespread and relatively secure') whereas the
African elephant with more than 500,000 animals is listed
These estimates were based on questionnaires and information
for several countries was unavailable, including Angola. The
most recent estimates of HSG (2004) differ very little from
4) and place the continental population between 130,000
and 155,000. Except for the Zambian population which appears
to be increasing, hippo are stable or declining in all of
the 36 countries included in the census.
In West Africa, hippos exist in small relict populations
isolated from each other and are most abundant in estuarine
habitats and the lower reaches of rivers, with a few occurring
in the sea. The largest numbers are in Guinea, Guinea Bissau
and Senegal (-7,000). The group of countries comprising Ivory
Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Burkina Faso have perhaps 2,000
hippos, Nigeria and Niger a further 500 and Cameroun, Central
Africa Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Congo are
unlikely to contain more than 2,500 altogether.
In East Africa, surveys have been carried out in a number
of countries. Estimates for the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania
were 15,483 in 1986, 24,169 in 1989 and 20,589 in 1990 (Games
1990). Several thousand hippo occur elsewhere in Tanzania.
In Uganda the main concentrations are in Queen Elizabeth(Ruwenzori)
and Murchison Falls national parks. In the early 1950s the
Queen Elizabeth park population numbered 21,000 but this was
reduced to some 14,000 through culling. The population was
further reduced by heavy illegal hunting during the Idi Amin
regime and was counted at about 2,000 animals in 1989. The
Murchison Falls population suffered a similar fate and numbers
are now similar to those in Queen Elizabeth park. The largest
numbers in East Africa occurred in eastern Zaire - about 30,000
in 1993 - but HSG (2004) place their present numbers between
2,000 - 4,000. Ethiopia and Sudan may hold 10,000.
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As stated above, southern Africa contains the largest numbers
of hippopotamus on the continent - some 80 000 animals. The
major part of the population lies in a belt extending across
the region between latitudes 15º-25º south of the equator.
The potential exists, through the development of trans-frontier
conservation areas, for the subpopulations in the countries
within this zone to form a single contiguous population across
the continent. In the text which follows, the southern African
countries are dealt with individually, beginning with two
that are not spatially linked to Namibia; continuing with
those that border on Namibia; and concluding with Namibia
itself. Much of the information is taken from HSG (1993) and
back to top
Despite the civil strife in the 1980s and 1990s, a surprising
number of hippopotamus appear to have survived in Mozambique.
The species is still widely distributed and present on most
river systems. Several State protected areas contain hippopotamus
although only Gorongosa, with about 2,000, has a sizeable
population. Tello (1986 in HSG 1993) estimated the total
population between 16,000 and 20,500 for the country as
a whole with most (10,000-12,000) in the Zambezi Wildlife
Utilization Area which includes Marromeu Reserve and four
safari hunting blocks. HSG (2004) now estimates the population
at 18,000 animals.
Malawi is densely populated with hippopotamus. The main
concentrations are at Elephant Marsh on the lower Shire
River, the southwest arm of Lake Malawi, Upper Shire River
and Lake Malombe in Liwonde National Park. R.H.V. Bell estimated
some 10,000 hippopotamus in the whole of Malawi in 1993
and HSG (2004) has not altered this estimate.
There are probably more hippopotamus in Zambia than in any
other single country. Goddard (1970) estimated the Luangwa
River population at about 9,000 animals and Sayer & Rakha
(1974) carried out studies on some 1,000 animals cropped
from this population. R.H.V. Bell estimated the number in
the Luangwa Valley to be between 20,000-25,000 in 1993.
Munyenyembe (in HSG 1993) put the country-wide total at
40,000. At that time they were widespread on the Kafue Flats
and in Lochinvar National Park.
The hippo in the Luangwa River suffered a major anthrax
outbreak in the early 1990s. The high densities of hippo
provided conducive conditions for an epidemic and mortality
was severe. However, the present population appears to have
recovered to its former level. Cropping of hippo in the
Luangwa has continued up to the present date. The author
observed hippo meat being distributed in the 1980s and 1990s
at Nyamaluma where an ongoing community-based natural resource
management programme is in place (Dale Lewis pers.comm.)
Of relevance to Namibia is the hippo population in the south-west
of Zambia. HSG (1993) show hippo as being present along
the Zambezi as far north as point where the river enters
Angola. M. Eustace (pers.comm.) confirms their presence
in moderate numbers in Sioma- Ngwezi and Liuwa Plains national
parks and along the portion of the Zambezi linking these
parks. In a survey of the Caprivi last year, Stander (2004)
counted only 17 hippo on the Zambezi upstream of the Chobe
confluence and it would seem that the dense settlement along
the river coupled with illegal hunting does not provide
favourable conditions for a large hippo population.
Shortridge (1934) presents a conflicting narrative of hippo
abundance in Angola with some reports suggesting hippo were
'disappearing more rapidly than any other game in Angola'
and others stating that hippo were numerous in the south-east
on the Kwando, Quito and Luiana rivers (Wilhelm 1931). Both
HSG (1993 and 2004) were unable to obtain data in compiling
their status report but quote Sydney (1965) as stating hippo
were widespread throughout Angola and numerous on the Cunene,
Cubango, Cuando, Cuanza, Longa, and Zambezi Rivers.
Beytell (pers.comm.) states that UNITA annihilated most
of the hippo along the Okavango River in the Angolan civil
war (1980s and 1990s). Chase & Griffin (2004), in carrying
out a survey for elephants in the Luiana Partial Reserve,
recorded sightings of other species but do not mention hippo
Except in the north of the country, most of Botswana is
too dry for hippopotamus (like Namibia). Hippo occur in
the Okavango Delta and in the Chobe/Linyanti River system.
A few (18+) exist on the Limpopo river in the east.ULG (1995)
confirm the presence of hippo on the Limpopo although none
were counted within their aerial survey transects.
In 1993, C.A. Spinage put the total population in northern
Botswana at 1,600 in the wet season and 500 in the dry.
ULG (1995) estimated the total hippo population of Botswana
at 2,859 in 1994 (mean of wet and dry seasons) with fairly
wide 95% confidence intervals (1,816 - 3,902). The authors
are careful to point that standard sample survey techniques
are unsuitable for counting hippos. From an examination
of previous surveys, they concluded that hippo were declining
in northern Botswana at an alarming rate of 33% per annum.
Stander (2004) counted 1,123 hippo in Mamili National Park
and on the Kwando and Chobe-Linyanti rivers of which only
those counted on the portion of the Kwando inside the Caprivi
(Babwata East) could be considered as belonging exclusively
to Namibia (159 animals). In 1994, Rodwell (et al 1995)
counted 220 hippo in this same stratum in the course of
a transect survey which was not designed specifically to
count hippo. Their estimate for Mamili was 472 animals (versus
560 counted by Stander in 2004). They saw no hippo in Mudumu
where Stander (2004) counted 34 animals.
Hippo are found on most of the large rivers (the Zambezi,
Sabi, Lundi and Limpopo) and also occur in smaller rivers
and darns where there is permanent water. Some wander over
long distances providing isolated records. "The only estimate
for the country-wide total is that made by R. B. Martin
on the basis of some limited counts, which have revealed
some dense populations e.g. 2,000 on a 50 km section of
the Zambezi. His estimate is 6,900, of which 5,530 occur
in national parks or reserves, 1,020 on communal lands and
350 elsewhere" (HSG 1993).
- South Africa
Shortridge (1934) gives an intriguing narrative of the
original distribution and disappearance of hippo in South
Hippopotamus are now confined to the northeast of the country,
mainly in the Transvaal and the northern tip of Natal. The
largest numbers are in the Kruger National Park in perennial
rivers, dams and pools on seasonal rivers. The total counted
in the park in 1989 was 2,761 with 2,575 in rivers and 191
in dams and pools. R.H. Taylor estimated about 1,500 for
Natal and Kwazulu in 1986, with the largest concentration
(595) being on Lake St Lucia. HSG (2004) give the current
hippo population in South Africa as between 3,000 and 5,000.
The disappearance of hippo in South Africa
In 1652 hippo occurred in the swamp which is now Church Square
in Capetown and were common on the Cape Flats. They were still
abundant around Capetown in the 1700s and were recorded in
the Gamtoos and Krom Rivers near Humansdorp, the Fish and
Sunday Rivers east of Port Elizabeth and the Kei River at
the extreme of the eastern Cape. In the 1800s they were plentiful
on the Orange River upstream of the Seekoei River near Colesberg
and in the Berg River north of Capetown. Burchell noted their
presence at the junction of the Vaal and Orange Rivers in
1811. Harris recorded them on the Molopo River near Mafeking
and on the upper Limpopo River in Pretoria district in1838.
They were also present in all the Natal Rivers.
The chronicle then changes to one of elimination. A single
hippo remained in the Fish River in 1853, hippo were shot
in the Keiskama River in 1854, the last hippo was shot in
the Buffalo River (East London) in 1862, the last hippo was
shot in the Berg River in 1874, the last hippo was shot in
the Umsimvubu River (Port St. Johns) in 1890, a number of
hippo were shot in the Umtata River mouth from 1893-1895,
hippo were exterminated in Sea Cow lake in 1898, the last
hippo disappeared from the lower Orange River after 1925 and
the famous 'Huberta' was killed on the Keiskama River near
Peddie in 1931.
In 1928, 'Huberta' left St. Lucia in Zululand and undertook
a trek of 1,600km around South Africa. At various times she
settled in the Umhlanga and Umgeni Rivers near Durban, walked
the beaches of Durban, then crossed 122 rivers to reach Kingwilliamstown
and East London in 1931. She became a national heroine and
enjoyed regular reports in the South African and international
press. She was killed by three hunters on the Keiskama river
in 1931 who were fined £25 each.