Ezemvelo defends hippo shooting

2008-07-25 00:00

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW) on Wednesday released a lengthy statement defending their stance and actions regarding the hippo which was shot dead in Verulam last week. This came in the wake of numerous e-mails and other messages from concerned citizens about the incident, said spokesperson Jeff Gaisford.

Gaisford overturned the image of Nkululeko as a happy hippo with a wanderlust romping in the sea, saying the animal was in a very stressful and foreign environment. “Hippos do enter the sea occasionally but not willingly and at Ballito this animal certainly was not surfing as many media reports indicated,” said Gaisford.

“This animal was being harassed by people, dogs, vehicles and aircraft, disturbances which they are normally not exposed to. Under these conditions hippos become very unpredictable, irritable and extremely dangerous.”

Gaisford said there is no explanation as to why hippos roam in this way — but speculated that the animal may have been evicted from its home range by a stronger herd bull.

“There is currently no viable way of preventing this sort of movement by hippos seeing as they usually move along waterways which are almost impossible to fence.”

He said experience with roaming hippos has shown that it is wise to leave the animal alone until it chooses a direction of travel. “This animal, after being harassed at Ballito, sought refuge north of Tinley Manor in very dense bush so thick that it was not safe to track it.”

Gaisford said EKZNW staff monitored the animal’s movements constantly and had game capture staff evaluating the situation both from the air and on the ground. He said using dart-injected drugs is seldom successful because when the dart hits the animal it flees to water where the drug takes effect, and the animal drowns before it can be hauled out.

He reiterated that the more successful method of hippo capture is by passive capture which only works for animals already settled in an enclosed body of water like a small pan or dam.

Gaisford said that of all the big game animals of Africa the hippo has the reputation for causing the most human deaths.

He said EKZNW took the decision some time ago to destroy Nkululeko before human lives were threatened, but it moved into a settled area at Verulam before this decision could be implemented.

“The eThekweni Municipality appointed a professional hunter to destroy the hippo and was also responsible for disposing of the carcass which was buried in one of the municipal dumps. EKZNW sent two experienced members of staff as observers and as backup. Three shots from heavy calibre rifles were fired at the hippo which ran about 40 metres and disappeared into the river.”

He said a search using spotlights showed no sign of the animal, which in itself was an indication that the animal was dead. “At dawn the carcass of the animal was found at the same spot at which it had entered the river. This indicated that it had died within minutes of being shot. It was later found that one bullet had hit the animal in the heart.” He said it was uncommon for large animals to run a short distance after being shot in the heart.

“While the organisation appreciates the concern felt by the public, and respects people’s right to express their opinion, it must be emphasised that decisions taken in such situations are backed by knowledge, experience and understanding gained from similar occasions over time. EKZNW regrets that it was necessary to destroy this animal but does remind people that the organisation has a responsibility to the broader community in such circumstances,” said Gaisford.

— Witness Reporter

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