SHELLENG, Nigeria (AP) – A hippopotamus that killed two fishermen in Nigeria’s northeast has been shot dead, authorities said Tuesday, highlighting how ill-equipped Nigerian wildlife control officials are to protect both wildlife and the communities that surround them.
Local hunters killed the hippopotamus in the town of Shelleng on the bank of the Benue river last Sunday, said Babangida Jimeta, head of the hunters association of Adamawa State. He said they were on the lookout for two other hippopotamuses that had turned violent in a sanctuary of about 200 hippopotamuses on Kiri dam.
“We don’t have pacifying weapons,” Jimeta said. “Only people at national parks and doctors have those.”
“Even while killing the hippopotamus, we nearly died in the river,” he said.
The chief of Shelleng town, Baba Ibrahim Italiya Shelleng, said the hippopotamus killed two fishermen last Saturday. He said other hippopotamuses had smashed canoes and destroyed rice fields in Shelleng and neighboring towns reliant on fishing and farming.
State wildlife control officials, who gave permission for the hunters to hunt down the hippopotamus, said killing the animal was a last resort.
“We don’t encourage killing,” said Zakari Buba Yaduma, assistant director of the wildlife control and conservation program at the state’s ministry of environment. “We went there to control, but this hippopotamus had already killed two people. We had no alternative.”
The sanctuary has been there for decades, said Yaduma, but as the human communities around it grow, the conflicts are more frequent. Older hippopotamuses also are known to become temperamental.
The ministry has done awareness campaigns, teaching people in river communities about hippopotamuses’ routines so that they can avoid them, Yaduma said.
“When you dart an animal, it will just go unconscious so you can transport it,” Yaduma said. “But you still need a special place to take that animal to; we lack the weapons and the machinery.”
Desmond Majekodunmi, council member of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, says that people have every right to kill the hippopotamuses to protect themselves when they aren’t in reserves or national parks.
However, Majekodunmi said that conservationists need to do more to keep both humans and wildlife safe.
“Hippopotamuses are not on the endangered species list, but they are a threatened animal,” he said. “If hippos are alive there and they are not being protected in any official way, then there is a problem.”
Yinka Ibukun contributed to this report from Lagos, Nigeria.
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