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Hippos of the Black Volta River Print E-mail

Interactions between people and hippopotamus
Hippopotamus in Bui National Park have been responsible for at least one human death in recent years. The incident involved a local fisherman who was killed at night when a hippopotamus overturned his canoe. Although his friends and family were adamant that he was catching fish, wildlife staff claim that he was trying to catch the hippo. Conversely, a number of hippopotamus have been poached in the park. Because few, if any, of the local people have access to the high velocity weapons needed to kill hippos safely from a distance, hippo hunting remains a very dangerous occupation. We found no evidence that pitfall traps are used to catch hippos in this area. Local people freely admit that hippo is their favourite meat, but insist that the only ones they have tasted had strayed outside the park boundary and were killed because they were a menace to local people and their crops. The low population density of both people and hippopotamus in this area make conflict between them relatively uncommon compared with Eastern Africa (e.g. Mkanda 1994). However, because of the very poor nature of the soils in this region, formation of  buffer zones between the river bank and agricultural lands to reduce human/hippo interactions do not appear to be a very desirable option; the only good farmland is within, or adjacent to, the floodplain of the river.  In general, hippos rarely stray outwith the southern boundary of the park and this greatly reduces the number of potentially antagonistic encounters between them. A major cause for future concern is that engineering activity within the park or pressure from an increasing hippo population will cause animals to spill over the southern border of the park, where they will undoubtedly cause problems.

Assuming that hippo densities throughout the park are at least as high as those recorded by us in the southern sector, the hippo population at Bui appears secure, in the short term at least, and, based on the high incidence of juvenile animals, numbers may be increasing. Thus Faber's (1996) estimate of 18 individuals within the park (and 27 throughout the Ghanaian portion of the Black Volta) is a gross underestimate, and highlights the dangers of using cursory observations as a basis for estimating animal populations, even when the animals are as large and conspicuous as the hippopotamus. However, compared to hippopotamus populations surveyed in eastern Africa, the numbers of hippos in the Black Volta is very small (e.g. Norton 1988; Bhima 1996; Karstad & Hudson 1984). Large increases in hippo density may have the effect of displacing individuals so that more animals cross the southern park boundary and thus increase the number of encounters between humans and hippos, which is clearly undesirable.

The hippopotamus population at Bui numbers at least 140 animals and is probably in the range of 250-350. There are grounds for supposing that the population is currently growing. Hippos appear unable to survive outside the park because they are not tolerated by local people.

The high incidence of hippo observations, both on the riverbank and by canoe, indicate that the Bui hippo population has the potential to be an important tourist attraction. However, the dilapidated state of the park's infrastructure, its remote location and lack of even basic facilities make it unlikely that the park could cope with large influxes of tourists without substantial investment. We believe that the park could attract significant numbers of more adventurous tourists, and that they could be catered for with very rudimentary facilities, most of which already exist. The main priority of such a plan must be the safety of tourists and their guides. For riverbank and treehouse observations this can be accomplished simply by ensuring that each group is accompanied by a Wildlife Ranger trained in the use of high-velocity firearms. For canoe trips along the Black Volta life jackets should be regarded as essential. The facility that is most obviously lacking at Bui is a vehicle that can transport paying visitors on demand. If the number of tourists rises in the way we anticipate, such a vehicle would pay for itself within 18 months.

One other hippopotamus population still exists in Ghana, at Wichan, near Wa. Population is estimated to be around 100 animals (P.Choribe, pers. comm.). This population is at present in an unprotected area, and the local districts assemblies are keen that the Wildlife Department takes some action to reduce conflict between hippos and people.

Possible effects of the Bui Hydro Electric Project
Whether hippos will continue to inhabit this area after the construction of Bui Dam probably depends largely on whether suitable foraging areas will exist or can be created close to the edges of Bui Lake. The fact that all foraging areas identified by us were in riverine forest habitats suggests that it may be necessary to create suitable foraging areas prior to flooding in order to maintain a hippo population at Bui. However O’Connor & Campbell (1986) note that hippos feed closer to the riverbank during the wet season in Zimbabwe, and that they favour alluvial areas. It may be that the dry season feeding grounds of the Bui hippos are much larger than those used in June and July.



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