Hippo’s journey ends in Verulam

2008-07-15 00:00

It took three shots to kill Nkululeko on Monday night and it appears the hippo with the adventurous spirit did not die immediately.

Animal Rights Africa (ARA) has slammed the killing of the hippo, while some Verulam residents are in mourning for Nkululeko, who they say ran off a short way into the bushes after she had been shot before collapsing and dying.

The hippo who captured hearts as she frolicked in the sea at Ballito and then trekked inland was recently blamed for the death of a man.

Yesterday, Steve Smit of ARA labelled the hippo’s death a “tragedy” that could have been avoided and called for a public inquiry into the way Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife handled the matter.

He questioned the size of the calibre rifle used to shoot the animal, saying that he had heard that the hippo did not die immediately, but that he could not confirm this. “There was an agreement that authorities would notify us when the animal would be killed. We wanted to be there to monitor that it was done humanely, but only found out later that she had been shot without our knowledge.”

Smit said he had many calls from people expressing their sadness on the death of the hippo yesterday.

He believes that had EKZNW acted sooner, both the human death and the killing of the hippo could have been avoided, and he accused the conservation authority of having taken a “relaxed approach” to the hippo.

“The fact is that in their own words ‘this hippo was of no conservation value to EKZNW’, and therefore they were quite obviously not prepared to go to any trouble or expense to capture and relocate it. Shooting it was the easiest and cheapest option for them to take.”

But EKZNW defended the decision to kill the hippo, saying it was left with no other option.

Spokesman Jeff Gaisford told The Witness EKZNW has a clear policy on dealing with problem animals, and particularly large and potentially dangerous game such as hippos. “If such an animal cannot be driven back to its home range or captured, it is to be destroyed before it becomes a threat to human life. It did not once present a safe opportunity either to catch or destroy it.”

Gaisford said the hippo, after being harassed at Ballito, sought refuge north of Tinley Manor “in bush so thick that no sane man would dream of going in to look for it”. He said experienced game capture staff — arguably among the most experienced in the game capture field in Africa if not globally — evaluated the situation constantly both from the air and on the ground. “At no stage was capture a viable option, and the decision to destroy the animal was taken some time ago.

"Unfortunately it moved into a settled area at Verulam before this decision could be implemented. "

He said critics should understand that to experiment with capture techniques when a large, powerful and aggressive animal is in the midst of a human settlement is not wise practice.

“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.”

Christo Swart, deputy head of Health, Safety and Social Services at eThekwini, said yesterday after the hippo had allegedly killed a resident: “As a responsible municipality, we cannot take a gamble with the lives and safety of our citizens, and we took a final decision to put the animal down before any further incidents could occur”.

Swart said later that while the postmortem results for the man who died were not yet available, expert opinion had been that he had died as a result of wounds inflicted by the hippo.

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