WASHINGTON—Animal protection and conservation groups sent notice today of their intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for missing its deadline to decide whether the common hippopotamus should be protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The deadline results from a 2022 petition seeking federal protection for hippos filed by Humane Society International, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Center for Biological Diversity. The government was required to make its decision on that petition one year ago this week. But it failed to act, prompting today’s notice.

While the U.S. government is dragging its feet, hippos are disappearing from the wild. This iconic species is threatened by habitat loss and degradation, drought, poaching and the international demand for hippo parts, including teeth, skulls, ivory, skin and meat.

“Hippos are one the most iconic animals in the world—every child knows that ‘H’ is for ‘hippo,’ ” said Adam Peyman, wildlife programs director for Humane Society International, speaking on behalf of HSI and the HSUS. “Yet the species continues to face myriad threats that are exacerbated by international trade in their parts. It is imperative that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acts now to protect hippos before it is too late, as the U.S. continues to be a market for hippo parts and products.”

The United States is the top importer of hippo parts and products, consuming 45% of global imports between 2019 and 2021.

“These adorably chunky animals deserve protections to keep them alive in the wild, not carved up in parts sitting on people’s shelves,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Hippos play a crucial role in the aquatic ecosystems where they live but the United States has an appetite for frivolous hippo products. It's time for federal officials to stop yawning at deadlines and take the next step toward protecting the species from US demand.”

Hippo parts and products are readily available for purchase across much of the United States. A 2022 undercover investigation by Humane Society International and the Humane Society of the United States 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.

“As the leading importer of hippo parts and products, the U.S. government must lead by example and list hippos under the Endangered Species Act,” said Tracie Letterman, vice president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. “Federal protections are critical for species like hippos who are being pushed to the brink of extinction.”

Between 2009 and 2018, at least 3,081 hippos were killed to fuel legal U.S. trade, which remains unchecked in the absence of ESA protections. The protections sought in the groups’ petition would place near-total restrictions on most commercial imports and sales of hippo specimens and provide public awareness and funding to achieve the ESA’s conservation goals.


  • 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 many 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 the federal level, and imports of hippo parts and products are not scrutinized under the ESA’s strict standards.
  • When a group submits a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking Endangered Species Act protections for a species, the law requires the government to make an initial determination within 90 days as to whether the request may be warranted. If the agency determines ESA protections may be warranted—as it has done for hippos—it must then decide within 12 months of the petition’s submission whether to propose those protections.
  • 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.

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