A RIVER RUNS RED
Byline: Hermione River-Horse, from the River Express.
19 June - Dry Season, Zambia
Hermione River-Horse is an African correspondent covering issues affecting her species, the environment and the African continent for the River Express. She is a Gold Watermark winning journalist.*
Here on the banks of the Luangwa River a tragedy is unfolding, in the past few weeks at least 6 hippos have been shot, skinned and butchered . We took to the sand bars to ask the affected Hippos how the killing is impacting their community.
It’s 5 am and the air and river is cool. The river’s levels are lowish, but nothing out of the ordinary, similar to other seasons at the same time of year. I have come out to interview the hippos in the South Luangwa National Park (SLNP), but these incidents that have so impacted their family are to be repeated in multiple locations along the Luangwa River in the Luangwa Valley as well as here in South Luangwa, also at Luambe NP and North Luangwa NP. Reportedly up to 2000 hippos will lose their lives in the killing seasons.
The scene appears peaceful, but as I approach the pod of hippos I can hear their levels of concern. Many have just returned from the night shift. The rumbles and snorts louder than usual, they are upset and stressed. No-one wants to be seen on camera. Names have been changed to protect identity.
*This is the transcript and description of those interviews.
Sandra Hippo has lived on this stretch of the river since she was born 12 years ago living all her life in this pod. I asked Sandra how the killing started and how it has affected her family.
Hermione River-Horse: Thanks for agreeing to speak with me today Sandra about what is happening this side, it can’t be easy to talk about it. Can you tell our audience your story, in your own words?
Sandra Hippo: Snort, snort snort, whoomph. I have this little kid, Bonbette she is a month old and I have to get grass as much as I can because I am feeding her. I have to have so much milk for her and need to keep my condition up. But since the hunters arrived, I am too frightened to leave the river much. I am stressed out of my mind, 4 weeks it has been since they set up camp. The local ones (the butcher team) they know us really well - we are neighbors you know, sometimes they go berserk and kill one of us to give to the chief for some big party, they have been doing that since forever we can remember, but that’s life, you know, but six of us in one week. Just random acts of violence, 6 in one week!
Hermione River-Horse: So the locals are butchering but who is doing the killing?
Sandra Hippo: The foreigners - the muzungus wearing camouflage and hats, smelling of DEET - they came with their big No-Bang Sticks (she means guns) and follow us. You know us hippos we can run. We can run 35 kilometres an hour for a short stretch but not fast enough to outrun the No-Bang Sticks.
Sandra stares off into the long distance, eyes red rimmed but dry.
Hermione River-Horse: What happened the day your son was killed, sorry to ask but I am wondering if you can take us through it.
Sandra Hippo: Honk. Honk. Honk, snort. Yes, my son, Barley, he was one of the ones that died on 31 May Dry Season, it was really early in the morning, he was out grazing further down river. We had all smelled the diesel when the vehicles arrived, but we smell that all the time anyways, no big deal it’s what the humans here mostly do, they drive around and look at us. That morning we smelled the smoke from their morning camp fire and knew they were up but didn’t know they were after us. I think Barley must of heard the muzungu and the wildlife officers coming, he was a too far away from the water at the time, but just minding his own business, eating, I heard him running, he’s my son, you know, my eldest he was only 6 years old, I knew the sound of his footsteps. Snort, blow, harrumph.
Chomping stiff jawed, Sandra is obviously distressed.
Hermione River-Horse: Tell our audience a bit more about Barley, what was he like?
Sandra Hippo: Barley? Well, he was always a playful lad, liked to tussle and always up to mischief you know, but everyone in the pod loved him, especially Peter and Zunder they were like brothers. Although lately, Barley and Peter were starting to be a bit of a handful and I was looking forward to Barley leaving home and setting up with some bachelor friends further down the river. Caesar (that’s his Dad) was starting to get pretty mad with him, had a go at him a couple of times recently and the way he smelled, he was staring to come into his manhood, and how he kept fussing the other ladies, you know? I knew it was time to be pushing him out of home. You have to. They don’t want to go on their own, they have to be told. I had told him he had to go soon, just the day before.
Sandra’s head falls, she shuts her eyes and just stands, dejected for minutes.
Sandra Hippo: Snort. Harrumph. Blow. He was so far down river because I had told him it was nearly time to go. He was wandering further because I had said to go. He tried to make it back to us.
Sandra waves her head, jaws wide, chomping then Bonbette bumps at her side, concerned.
Sandra Hippo: Snort, snuffle. Blow. He’s dead now. **OMHG. Snort, garrumph.
Hermione River-Horse: How has what has happened affected you?
Sandra Hippo: Not so much me, I’m devastated but can handle it, I have been around the river a long time. That day, when Barley and the others were killed, I watched from the water, trying to shield Bonbette from seeing, but she saw and was terrified. I had to keep her afloat she was so frozen with fear she might have drowned. She lost her brother that day. I lost my son. But I’m not the only one this has happened to, ask my sister Muriel, her son, Peter was shot and skinned too, she hasn’t said much since then she’s in shock you know? Maybe better if you talk to Caesar, he’s been my husband for 6 years. His other wives, not just Muriel, have lost their kids too, or their sisters and brothers. 6 of them shot and skinned, their heads left in the sun. OMHG.
She freezes up for a few moments, jaw working saying nothing but trying to.
Sandra Hippo: Snort. their heads were just up there on that bank.
Sandra indicates with her head towards the direction of the butcher’s camp.
Sandra Hippo: they just left them there for hours, we were outraged, but too terrified to say anything in case they came after us too.
Hermione River-Horse: Sandra, what are your plans now the killing has started, can you move away?
Sandra Hippo: What am I supposed to do? Where are we supposed to go?
Sandra looks up and down the river within 500 metres the neighbouring pods are restless, in their own stretches of the river.
Sandra Hippo: You know we used to all just live pretty well in harmony, things get tough when the river levels drop - and some of us, usually the the old and weak die - but we, our ancestors have lived along this river for as long as there has been a river here. Snort. Where can we go?
You know, we all, every one over weaning age need to leave the river to eat. I need to get out and eat, Either I have to take my baby, Bonbette, with me if I am not going far or hide her in a shallow cut away on the bank because she is at risk if I leave her with the pod, she is too little. Snort. Hurrumph,
When will this stop, will it happen again? I don’t know what to believe, But I know my son and nephew are dead. My other relations. That I do know.
She lowers her head and rests her nose on Bonbette.
Sandra Hippo: I just can’t say anymore, Bonbette needs feeding, go talk to Caesar, or Muriel. Thank you for caring, there is hardly anyone who has spoken up about this! We need more people to know what is going on here and try to stop it.
As she lumbers away with her baby back to the water we hear her mutter, “my boy, his friends… My sister, my sister’s kid too.” Sandra partially submerges and moves away to the other bank, her little Bonbette follows, looking worried and forlorn.
Hermione River-Horse: The scene here now is subdued, restless, though the young males are crashing at each other with pent up aggression.
Caesar has been the Pod Master for many seasons, holding this excellent stretch of river for his family, a pod of 30 hippos. He has worked hard every day to keep this stretch of river for his family. His wives are all related to one another, having lived together since their birth - he is their husband and master as is the culture of hippos, keeping his family safe from threat. Except this time, he cannot stop this threat. I seek out Caesar and ask if he is willing to be interviewed.
Caesar Hippo: Roar, Of course! I want the world to know what is happening here to my family, to my cousins up and down the river. Snort. Every hippo talks to every other hippo, you know, the Hippo river-telegrah is strong, you just have to listen at dawn and dusk to know that we share the news. Right now everyone is terrified of the killings and we don’t know when it is going to stop!
He balefully glares down river. His head is high and he is a magnificent Hippo as he pulls himself out of the water to stand on the bank for the interview. All his wives honk and holler at him.
Pod: You tell them Caesar, go on tell our story!
The little hippos all line up and watch him obviously in awe of him.
Hermione River-Horse: Caesar what do you want to tell the world about what is happening here?
Caesar Hippo: Snort, roar. I saw a muzungu standing over my son, Barley’s body. Just standing there with a look of satisfaction on his face, holding his No-Bang Stick.
Hermione River-Horse: Yes, thousands of us have seen that pathetic and terribly sad photo out on the world wide e-river (I mean the internet). We think it was that South African guy Theo or one of his foreign hunting clients you saw.
Caesar Hippo: I saw him. I saw the blood. I saw my boy’s body. He shot my boy in cold blood, Barley almost made it back to the river. He was just inches from making it safely back home. I was out at the time, grazing too. I didn’t hear the no-bang-stick, because they have this thing that makes it silent I dunno why maybe it is so the other humans, the paying ones, what’d ya call em? Tourists? Maybe it is so they don’t get frightened or concerned. Is that it? So THEY don’t get frightened and concerned? What about MY family!
He chomps the air head raised, standing 5 ft at the shoulder all 1500 kilogrammes of him shining in the sunlight.
Caesar Hippo: What about us hippos? We can’t leave anyway and my wives she (he means all of them) are terrified. Already we have lost 6 of our family to these bastards.
He chomps the air again and opens his mouth wide swinging his head in futile anger.
Caesar Hippo: I saw the bodies of 6 of my family shot, butchered, hacked up and heads left in the sun. What is happening? How many more of us are gonna die? What about the other humans with the clicky-things (he means cameras) they come to see us and the elephants, the lions, the leopards they don’t usually hurt us. Where are they now? Where are the Clicky-tourists? Being shown other parts of the river, other hippos, not us where there are dead ones, eh? They are not here looking at the killing and the butchering up that is for sure. Snort. Honk.. You know what I think?
He mouths his own chops obsessively for a few minutes as he thinks through what it is that he thinks.
Caesar Hippo: Snort, roar, jaw-chomp. I think, that the very idea of killing us puts a woody in those hunter’s pants.
He sneers 30 cm tusks gleaming in the morning light.
Caesar: You wanna see what a man does? Little pathetic scrawny things? You WANNA see what a real MAN does?
He roars and swings away and crashes into the river. Standing with water lapping his sides, to protect his family, head raised, jaws agape. His wives and children gather around him giving comfort and paying homage to their husband and pod master. I give him a few minutes to contain himself and ask if he feels he can continue.
Caesar Hippo: Snort, hurrumph, Honk, HONK.
He glares balefully in the direction of the camp.
Caesar Hippo: I can’t say anything more, not today, what kind of father am I? My sons, 4 of them a daughter, one of my wives, what kind of husband am I? They are dead, butchered, their nyama sold. What’s a father, a husband to say? I want to protect my family, you know. But they have the upper hand with their No-Bang sticks. They do whatever they want to us, we need help!
He turns his back and crashes away in to the heart of his pod.
The sun has risen higher and the pod has retreated into the slightly deeper water, submerged, eyes and nostrils showing, they are obviously upset. A silence falls over the pod again, then a few of the teen boys start acting up. I ask one of them if he has anything to say.
He won’t come out of the water, says his name is Zunder (rhymes with Wonder) and is 5 years old, weighing in at 900 kilogrammes. Muriel is his mother, Sandra’s sister. He has lost his older brother Peter. His cousin Barley was Zunder’s best buddy. He says he looked up to them both, thought when he was old enough he would join them wherever that stretch of the river was that they moved to as bachelors, now they are both dead...
Hermione River-Horse: You have lost your best friend and brother, how are you feeling?
Zunder Hippo: Snort, chomp. I dunno just flattened and angry I am and a bit scared. Snort. it just seems so unfair. Both the guys I looked up to are dead. Barley was my best bud, my brother to another mother, you know? He was the funniest bro. we ever knew. Him and Peter, my real brother, he was my rock.
Zunder opens his jaws wide and moves his head in wide arcs seeking some-one, something to challenge.
Zunder Hippo: The three of us we used to rip it up bad, the pod laughed at most of what we did. Laugh! We used to laugh our heads off. Honk. honk. honk. honk. honk.
A chorus of honking is taken up up and down the river in memory of Barley and Peter and the others.
Zunder flashes his tusks. Then hunches into himself, this 900 kg hippo just collapses in on himself and snuffles looking devastated.
Zunder Hippo: Snort. Both, gone. Mum is a shadow of her former self in just three weeks she went from being the bossiest gal in the pod to just drifting in the shadowed shallows, she has hardly eaten, she is pregnant again, but doesn’t want to live anymore.
He drifts off, bereft.
Hermione River-Horse: It is evident from the eye-witness accounts from these few brave hippos that the effect of the killing is taking it’s toll. The rest of the pod are submerged in grief.
This is Hermione River-Horse reporting for River Express.
How to Help
PLEASE SIGN AND SHARE
Please sign the Hippo's petition on AVAAZ and share widely: https://goo.gl/A0TWEx
Opens at: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/To_The_Director_of_DNPW_Paul_Zyambo_Tourism_Minister_Hon_Jean_Kapata_Stop_the_Hippo_Hunting_Cull_in_South_Luangwa_Zambia/
*This piece is a parody but for all that, it is a serious attempt to put the Hippo's own lives and story front and centre into the public commons. Any charges of anthropomorphism are probably true, but then again, the Cambridge Declaration signed by a veritable who's who of Animal biologists and scientists has declared animal sentience, and anyone living close to wild or domestic animals knows they are their own beings.
This parody interview is based in fact, it is free to be syndicated/reproduced in its entirety. Please email Hippo Whistler at hippowhistler [at] gmail.com if this has been used elsewhere with the link to that url, thanks. HW.
Stay up to date at Hippo Whistler’s page: https://hippowhistler.blogspot.com
**OMHG = Oh My Hippo God.
The humans at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) have made arrangements for up to 2000 hippos to be killed over the next 5 years.
The killing started on 31st May 2016 (Hippo Hunting). The weapons used are fitted with silencers. At least 6 hippos have been shot, butchered and their meat sold from the back of vehicles to local people since that time.
Due to the outrage raised by other humans on behalf of the Hippos (Media Release 1 and Media Release 2), the DNPW Zambia have put a temporary hold on the killings while they try to find a way to extricate themselves from the controversy and still continuing the killing.
A concerned Hippo-ally has started a petition on AVAAZ here: https://goo.gl/A0TWEx calling on the government to permanently stop the killing.
There has been talk that the contracts may be in dispute given that one of the contractors of the company awarded the contract was a paid member of staff of ZAWA (the body disbanded last year now reconstituted as DNPW) when the contract was awarded. We are investigating this matter and will report in due course.
The information gleaned from previous sources has stated that the DNPW are going to shoot the mum’s and babies, everyone in whole pods. The Department is calling it a cull, but why are the hunters just picking hippos off one by one on dry land? The bag (the hunters euphemism for body count) is said to be 4 a day. The hunting season is 4 months, There are multiple locations along the Luangwa Valley targeted. How can it be a cull when they are just shooting a few at a time? What is really going on? Trophy Hunting is what is going on at a level never seen before.
On the 14th June Dry Season the Ministry of Tourism sent out a set piece release announcing the temporary suspension of the killing: https://hippowhistler.blogspot.com/2016/06/news-flash-dnpw-suspends-cull.html
Hippo Whistler (c) 19 June 2016
Link Back URL: https://hippowhistler.blogspot.com
or if quoted in part
Hermione River-Horse (a pseudonym), River Express, Hippo Whistler Blog. 19 June 2016 (c)
Link Back URL: https://hippowhistler.blogspot.com