LAKE LYAMBEZI – Over 100 hippos stranded at Lake Lyambezi in Zilitene area in the Katima Mulilo Rural Constituency are dying.
The Ministry of Environment and Tourism is yet to pronounce itself on what is killing the hippos. However, the environment ministry’s chief control warden in Zambezi Region Morgan Saisai confirmed that the ministry is aware of the situation. According to Saisai, about 50 hippos have already died in the past week and the number is expected to rise.
He said that investigations have begun and it was initially suspected that the hippos were dying of anthrax, but that has been ruled out after test results came out negative.
Saisai added that although not yet confirmed, they now suspect that the hippos might have been poisoned after they went to graze at a nearby production farm in neighbouring Botswana where they reportedly use very poisonous pesticides.
“A team was there to take samples of inner organs – livers and kidneys,” he said.
When this reporter visited the scene on Friday, it was observed that community members had already started having a feast as they were sharing meat of the semi-aquatic mammals. The early birds filled their vehicles with hippo meat after three hippos were reportedly found dead on Friday morning.
On Friday afternoon dozens of community members could be seen at the banks of Lake Lyambezi where the hippos are stranded, waiting for one to die so that they could also have a share.
A number of carcasses could be seen floating in the lake, and community members told this reporter that they were left to rot as the environment ministry was yet to declare them fit for human consumption.
But after reportedly getting a go-ahead late on Thursday afternoon, the feast started. Saisai however denied that community members were cleared to consume the meat.
“I heard that the warden who was there told them that they should eat. It should cause concern in terms of health of human beings about what can be killing those hippos… and people can still be killed in the long run,” he said.
Saisai said it will take at least 50 days to confirm whether the hippos were poisoned or not. He strongly discouraged community members from eating the meat, because the cause of death remains a mystery.
Saisai also threatened to arrest those who will be found with the meat, as he alleged that some might take the opportunity to kill healthy hippos and start selling the meat.
He also said that if poison is ruled out other possible causes of death good be the quality of the water which is no longer fit as it is being polluted by illegal fishermen in the area.
According to Saisai the entire lake Lyambezi is home to over 400 hippos, and if the current situation continues the entire population might be lost as the lake is also fast drying out with drought taking its course.