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Humans have put the future of hippos at risk

With wide yawning jaws and small ears, hippos are adored creatures. Human exploitation has put their future at risk

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Moe, who has lived at Hogle Zoo for 30 years, is moving to Albuquerque, N.M., where he will enjoy plusher digs and the company of two female hippos.

A female hippo being fed at the Hogle Zoo.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Hippos, adored for their wide yawning jaws and relatively small ears, are known to thrive in the wild, but human actions have pushed these animals close to extinction.

A coalition of wildlife advocacy organizations filed a petition with the Fish and Wildlife Service in late March, stating that the remaining hippotamuses, close to 115,000 in the world, are in danger of being poached and their parts sold, such as teeth, skulls, ivory, skin and meat.

What they’re saying: “Hippos are being needlessly slaughtered for commercial trade and trophy hunting,” said Adam Peyman, director of wildlife programs for Humane Society International, an organization that is a part of the petition. “If we don’t protect them now, hippos may disappear forever.”

Details: Between 2015 and 2019, hippo-exporting countries reported shipping out 5,169 hippo-leather products, 4,184 hippo skins, 2,516 hippo-hunting trophies and more than 11,500 teeth, with the U.S. as the destination for 50% of these products, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Although hippos are an endangered species, they can still be bought and sold legally with the right documentation. Unlike elephants, hippos are safe from a pressing threat of extinction, wrote Maggie Koerth in the report.

Why it matters: “Limiting U.S. imports by listing hippos under the ESA will grant them important protections and will set the stage for other countries to follow,” said Tracie Letterman, vice president of federal affairs for the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

“As conservation leaders, but also the leading importer of hippo parts and products, the U.S. has a critical role to play in saving hippos from extinction.”

What’s next: The Fish and Wildlife Service has 50 more days to review the petition and make determinations on the hippos’ status.