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How death of hippos lead to celebrations around Lake Victoria

The death of a hippo in any part of Lake Victoria usually brings joy to the entire community which is more used to eating fish.

When a dead hippo is spotted somewhere, residents will arm themselves with machetes and other weapons ready to devour the aquatic beast before cooking and eating its meat.

To the government, this is a disadvantage as it leads to revenue loss.

Local and foreign tourists normally visit the lake to watch the animals and their absence from the lake means hotels cannot generate income.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has therefore invested to protect the animal.

But from time to time, disasters do happen especially around islands in Homa Bay County when the animal dies.

Causes of death vary.

Sometimes hippos fight to death when the dominant ones battle to control their territories.

Sometimes some are killed by fisher folks when they invade human settlements.

Others die when they get trapped in objects put in the lake by fishermen or water transport operators.

But one common thing about hippo death is that it brings people together.

In Mfangano Island, some residents were privileged to eat wild meat on April 14, 2023, when one of the animals died.

Some claimed it encroached on private land and ate crops.

The owner of the land then decided to mobilize some men to kill it.

But since it was big, other community members had to be called to share the meat.

It also happened at a time when most families are struggling to put food on the table and the free meal was something they could not miss.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers also went to the scene to witness how the animal is being slaughtered since they are the ones protecting it when it is in water.

Ms Phanice Wankio, a resident of Mfangano Island said in the past, residents would scramble for meat.

“It was survival of the fittest. Whoever is fast and tough would get the meat. The slow ones walked home with nothing,” she said.

If one is not careful, a mistake can lead to someone losing his or her hand as men scramble for meat.

Things were a bit different on D-Day.

Ms Wankio said KWS officials ensured that meat distribution was done in an orderly manner.

Residents were told to line up and get a share of the wild delicacy.

While on the line, some men would cut the meat and distribute it fairly and equally.

Ms Wankio said the hippo meat tastes like ordinary meat.

“The animal eats grass just like a cow. There is no difference in how the meat tests,” she said.

“The only thing that makes it unique is the curiosity that people have of eating a wild animal,” she said.

Cases of humans encountering hippos have been on the rise in parts of Lake Victoria.

KWS attributed some attacks and past encounters to climate change.

According to KWS Warden Ziporah Mideza, farmers have invaded grazing land for hippos as pastures for their livestock dried up and shrank.

She accused farmers of moving to areas that were previously used by hippos only.

In the lake, hippos also get resistance when fishermen use rogue fishing methods that drive out the animals.

“Interference between the land and the lake makes the animals vulnerable. Most of them will, therefore, attack to protect themselves,” the KWS warden said.

Nevertheless, the agency has intensified civic education along the beaches in the lake to eradicate human-wildlife conflict, especially during the rainy season, when more attacks are likely to be reported.

Ms Mideza said her officers have held talks with fisher folks to educate them on ways they can keep themselves safe from an animal attacks.

“We have held public barazas and radio talk shows to tell fishermen that hippos are a national resource. We will continue sensitizing them to minimise conflict,” she said.

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