Slaughter by poachers takes world's largest hippo herd to brink of extinction

What was once the world's largest hippopotamus herd has declined by 95 per cent, the World Wide Fund for Nature said yesterday.

Only 1,300 hippos remain in Virunga National Park, a world heritage site on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Three decades ago there were 29,000, shows a census by WWF and local conservation charities.

Poachers are killing them for their meat and teeth to meet international demand. "This is disastrous," said Dr Susan Liberman, a WWF director. "Unless poaching is stopped, hippos will be threatened with extinction."

Hippo dung is an essential element of the fish-food chain, and as hippo numbers fall, catches have dwindled, affecting the livelihoods and health of local people.