On a safari side trip to donate some mosquito nets to a local village outside of South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, we came across something that was unexpected.
Lined up in rows and piles beside the road, and guarded by a small group of soldiers, were Hippo skulls, bones and tusks.
Going on safari in Africa, you envision wild mammals running around, playing out the eternal battle of predator and prey.
That is the case for the most part, but even in Africa fragmented habitats create situations where populations of certain species can get out of control. One such place is South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.
Overall, I found this park more impressive for wildlife viewing than the Serengeti. There were Hippos everywhere! As well as plenty of Giraffes, Elephants, Zebras, Warthogs and other animals.
Apparently the Hippopotamus population in South Luangwa is extremely healthy, to the point that authorities regulate a controlled cull of the animals to keep their populations in check.
Hundreds of Hippos are killed during these culls. When we arrived, these dried out skulls had obviously been around for some time, but it is hard to imagine what kind of operation it takes to cull these wild and dangerous animals.
We were told that the hippo meat is given to poor villages around the park and perhaps some butcher shops (although how they refrigerate and keep all that meat clean is a mystery to me). Other items are sold, with funds going to ZAWA (Zambia Wildlife Authority) towards the protection of the country’s parks.
What I didn’t know before seeing these skulls and bones lying around was that Hippo tusks, those big sharp teeth of theirs, are made of ivory.
While Elephant ivory gets all the attention in the media, due to poaching, Hippo ivory is the second most common source of ivory in the world. You can see some Hippo tusks have been set aside in these photos.