Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Great Hippo Hunt!


I was contacted last week by ZAWA in Mansa and asked to report to the office for a campaign they needed to inform me of. So on Thursday I arrived to find 2 other wildlife rangers from Samfya waiting for deployment. I was told that there was a hippo in the area of Mununga that was eating the villagers crops and causing a problem. 

There was only one male hippo that apparently left the group and went up a river that was used by the people. So for the past few weeks he was destroying the maize that was only a few months old. The stalks were soft and sweet, a favorite for the hippo, so I was told that the government has commanded us to shoot and kill it.

  I took the rangers with me and drove about 3 hours north to a village called Mununga. There we talked with the local police to get an idea of where the animal was last seen. Then to do the traditional thing, we went to the Chief's palace to get information on the animal, the destruction of the crops, meet the headman and to talk to the farmers that were affected by the hippo.

   After this we had lunch and went to see the affected area. 

As you can see in the photo, many fields near the river were eaten--many eaten down to only a few inches from the ground.

 This will affect the growth of the maize and will not give the farmer the harvest he needs to sustain his family during the dry months.

 Maize is the main staple of the Zambian people and without it the people will starve.



We then started our patrol of the area in a boat that the locals provided with 3 men to paddle it. This patrolling went on for many hours up and down the river with no success. 


 As night arrived we went back to the shore. There the other Rangers hiked back to camp to rest up for the night patrol and to get some food. I remained in the boat along the river to keep an eye on the river to try to spot the Hippo coming across the river to feed.


This waiting period is what tries the hunter--separating the men from the boys as they have to keep from sleeping or giving up.

Fortunately, I do fine in this area, but  keeping an eye on the open river and on both banks on either sides was my first priority. 

One side was a bunch of marshes where I was suspecting the hippo was sleeping and the other was a mud bank that he often pounced through to ravage the planted fields. 

Around 7 pm the moon was high and the night crawlers began their duty of singing to me in many different tones  that kept my mind busy by trying to isolate each insect by its note.

 Then the horrors of the night arrived in the form of  malaria infested mosquitoes. This is when I unpacked my rain suit and put it on to protect me from the stinging bites. All went well until they found my uncovered parts, my hands and face. I fixed this by pulling my hands into the elastic cuffs and covering my face with a clear plastic. I felt like a wrapped piece of meat but at least I was safe. Yeah  I know, I should have brought the repellent with me on this trip, but I left it back at home in the rush I was in. 
  After all was nice and cozy I continued my hippo watch until the rain began. Well, I was already covered from head to toe, but then the heat began to build up in my sealed chamber that I had created. I finally had to open it up, but to my surprise a good wind was blowing with the light rain that felt like heaven. This peacefulness lasted for an hour before the rain died down and I went back to the wrapping up. 

This routine went on all night until midnight when the other hunters arrived. When the men arrived they found that the place next to the boat was infested with fiery black ants that got them dancing. To avoid more bites they ran back into the bush with their pants down and were not seen for the rest of the night.

  The next morning we set out to investigate the claim that a villager had heard hippo grunts coming from a marsh across the river.

 Then we heard it for ourselves, a deep grunting noise just in the marsh beyond our sight. I instructed our paddlers to come from behind it to flush it out into the open. This we did very cautiously as we didn't want the animal to think we were there to threaten it. If cornered or provoked, the Hippo could attack the boat and kill everyone on board, as was the case last year.

We came within 10 yards of the hippo and got off a good shot just behind the ear in the jugular. The rifle that was used was a .375 with a BSA scope. 

 The animal took off across the river to the other side where he bled. Then with one good plunge, he was gone. We waited on the shore for a few minutes then proceeded to look for him in the marshes. From my past experience, I knew that  a hippo could hold his breath for about 45 minutes at a time, especially if he is in danger. Right on the 45 minute mark, I spotted his body bobbing on top of the water. I directed the boat close to the hippo and poked it a few times with a paddle, and that was it.  I declared him dead. 

We took a rope and tied it to the hippo and brought it back to the bank where the processing would take place. 
The first thing  we had to do was to cut the tail off to take it to the local chief and present to him as proof that we had actually killed the beast.



     

















After that was done, we then had permission to cut the animal up for distribution to the people. We first inspected the animal to make sure it was healthy.

The tusks are considered trophy pieces and had to be sent to the capital for cataloging and paper work.
 The tusk can be purchased, but it must accompany a licence. And to export it or carry it with you to another country takes a lot of paper work and patience, but it can be done. Uncarved tusks like these will cost about $60 a piece.


Now, to spare my audience of a lot of gory photos of the cutting up the Hippo, I will show you one for interest purposes.


This shows you how thick the hide is on a Hippo. It is 2 to 3 inches and even 4 inches thick of fat. That is why there is only a few kill shot places on a Hippo. The head is the only place to shoot and between the eyes is the best.

  By this time, hundreds of villagers were crowding on the bank to watch us cut the meat up. I hired 12 guys with knives and axes to do the job. And it took a long 7 hours to cut up. Now this is not up in small chunks but large pieces that took 4 to 5 guys to carry. 

 Finally the meat was distributed between the farmers who were affected, the Chief, the hired workers and the government. 


So, to end this story I say it was a successful hunt with no casualties (aside from the hippo, that is), and the village is safe! 

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