Monday, July 28, 2008
Adored Hippopotamus Gunned Down by South African Wildlife Authorities
The surfing hippopotamus, affectionately nicknamed Nkululeko (which means freedom in Zulu) and his charming story ends with a senseless, brutal tragedy on South Africa's South Coast.
In March 2008, residents of the KwaZulu-Natal Coast were delighted to find an adult hippopotamus, uncharacteristically frolicking in the water on the beaches. The lone hippo, who instantly captured the hearts of the community, is thought to have migrated from the northern St. Lucia along the coast.
Residents and visitors alike enjoyed Nkululeko's antics and quickly realized the hippo meant no harm to its neighbors of surfers, swimmers and paddle-boarders. However, it was reported Nkululeko began showing signs of stress from his numerous admirers.
The officials of the South African wildlife conservation department, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW), who are responsible for protecting South Africa's floral and fauna, were contacted to assist the hippopotamus. However, EKZNW indicated that the hippo had no conservation value, and efforts to move the hippo, although committed to, were never executed, most likely due to the cost of the effort weighed against the perceived value of the creature. Sadly, in a country known for its wildlife, which drives considerable tourism dollars as well, a hippo is still considered "invaluable" and thus, not worthy of protection.
EKZNW reported in the beginning of July they intended to shoot the hippo, since they did not believe capture was an option. Although there was no evidence to support the claim, the Wildlife Department and the Municipality as well, alleged there was high risk of humans being harmed by the reportedly dangerous herbavoire.
On July 11th, due to the quick actions of animal rights activists, a court order was issued preventing the municipality and the wildlife department from killing the animal. Instead, conservationists were given until July 28th to capture and relocate the animal. Support was rallied from leading game capture experts all over the country, who were determined to protect Nkululeko with their experience and expertise.
Then four days later, and without proper cause or notice, Nkululeko was inhumanely hunted down and shot three times by rifle-toting EKZNW officials in the middle of the night. In an unbelievable string of events, reports miraculously surfaced that a man had been found dead and hippo tracks were nearby just mere days after the conservationists had been given permission to rescue the hippo. Suspicious given the timing, as well as the fact that no autopsy had been performed on the man – or is scheduled to be – for the next six month. The Wildlife Department acted on what appears to be based upon speculation and self-appointed "justice", killing an animal they are responsible for conserving.
The loss of Nkululeko is an international tragedy – and one that could have been easily prevented. What Is even more shocking is the fact that those responsible for protecting South Africa's treasured animals are themselves to blame for the death of the hippo. Sadly, this incident seems characteristic of wildlife management in South Africa – a country whose environmental policies and protection, fueled by booming eco-tourism, should be setting precedence for the world. In a world in which we are racing through our natural resources at an unsustainable rate, destroying wild animals simply because we can is no longer acceptable. We are systematically destroying our precious planet and its inhabitants – critical to our very own sustainability – without compassion or care.