Hippos Are No Longer on Zambian Menus as Anthrax Threat Rises

  • Drought has left low river levels, leading to crowding
  • Government in June canceled a cull of hippos after outcry

Zambians should stop eating hippopotamus meat in areas affected by an anthrax outbreak in the northeast of the southern African nation, Chitalu Chilufya, the health minister, said.

A regional drought has left little water to wallow in for the mammals that can weigh more than a Toyota Corolla, causing crowding and resulting in deaths. In June, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife called off a cull of as many as 2,000 hippos over 5 years in the area after an outcry from charity organizations including the U.K.-based Born Free Foundation.

“People in the areas of outbreak of anthrax should at all times desist from handling or eating infected dead hippo meat as this is the source of infection of anthrax in the area,” Chilufya told lawmakers in Lusaka, the capital, on Wednesday. “The government has sufficient capacity to respond to such outbreaks and the situation is under control.”

While no deaths have been reported, 22 cases of anthrax have been recorded since the outbreak started on Sept. 22 in the Chama district, about 700 kilometers (435 miles) north east of Lusaka, he said. So far, only cases of cutaneous, or the skin form of anthrax, have been detected.

Every year during Zambia’s dry season that lasts from around April to November, river levels drop, forcing herds of hippos into increasingly crowded pools during the heat of the day. A regional drought that’s the worst in 35 years has also increased competition over nocturnal grazing, meaning the beasts have to roam further to find food.

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