WASHINGTON—Today animal protection and conservation groups sent a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to respond to a legal petition to protect the common hippopotamus under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service was required to respond to the March 2022 petition within 90 days, but nearly a year has passed, and the agency still has not responded.
The petition filed by Humane Society International, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Center for Biological Diversity seeks to secure federal protections for this iconic species, which is disappearing from the wild. Hippos are threatened by habitat loss and degradation, drought, poaching, and the international demand for hippo parts, including teeth, skulls, ivory, skin and meat.
Adam Peyman, wildlife programs director for Humane Society International, speaking on behalf of HSI and the HSUS, said: “Hippos are targeted by poachers and trophy hunters for their teeth, skins, heads and more. As the top global importer of hippo trophies, parts and products, the United States government can no longer ignore its responsibility and the critical role it can play in curbing legal trade in hippo parts. It must step up and ensure that this iconic species receives crucial Endangered Species Act protections.”
Between 2009 and 2018, the United States imported thousands of hippo parts and products, including over 9,000 teeth, 700 skin pieces, 4,400 small leather products, 2,000 trophies and 1,700 carvings. Combined, these imports represent a minimum of 3,081 hippos killed to fuel legal U.S. trade, which remains unchecked in the absence of ESA protections.
“Hippos are adored by the public, and U.S. protections would help ensure they’re around for future generations to enjoy,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Most people don’t know that the U.S. market fuels hippo loss through demand for their ivory, skins or trophies for home décor. These keystone aquatic animals deserve to thrive in the wild, not be served up to the world’s largest hippo importer.”
Across many parts of the United States, hippo parts and products are readily available for purchase. A 2022 undercover investigation by HSI and the HSUS revealed thousands of items made from hippo parts for sale in the United States. Products made from hippo leather, such as belts, shoes and purses, and items made from hippo ivory, such as carvings and handles on knives and bottle openers, were among the most common items found for sale. Trophies, such as shoulder mounts and mounted teeth, were also available for purchase. Some of these products may have been illegally acquired or traded due to the lack of effective regulations and enforcement within hippo range countries.
The Endangered Species Act protections that the groups are seeking would place near-total restrictions on most imports and sales of hippo specimens and provide awareness and funding to achieve the ESA’s conservation goals.
“When it comes to keeping hippos safe from extinction, we have no time to waste,” said Tracie Letterman, vice president of federal affairs at Humane Society Legislative Fund. “Federal protections are long overdue as hippo populations suffer from numerous threats. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must step up to help ensure this species is around for decades to come.”
- The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies the common hippopotamus as “vulnerable,” meaning it is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. There may be as few as 115,000 adult hippos remaining in the wild in Africa today, with populations continuing to decline in most range States.
- Hippos are not listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. As a result, domestic trade within the United States is not regulated at a federal level, and imports of hippo parts and products are not scrutinized under the ESA’s strict standards.
- Hippos are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, meaning that legal trade in their parts must be controlled to prevent it from threatening their survival. Despite their inclusion on CITES Appendix II, the species’ conservation status continues to deteriorate, and at the most recent CITES Conference of the Parties, member states failed to adopt a proposed revision to hippos’ CITES listing that would have prohibited all exports of wild specimens for commercial purposes.
- Between 2018 and 2021, Humane Society International and the Humane Society of the United States conducted an undercover investigation of hippo parts and products being sold in stores throughout the United States and online. This investigation found a variety of hippo parts and products readily available for purchase in many states. Products found included leather products (purses, belts, Western boots and hides), raw ivory (molar teeth, tusks and full skulls), worked ivory (carvings, scrimshawed tusk, painted tusk, ivory-handled bottle openers and knives, and figurines), and trophies (full shoulder mounts and mounted teeth).
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