Botswana Pumps Water Into Drying Channels to Aid Stranded Hippos

Gaborone, Botswana — Herds of endangered hippos are stuck in drying ponds in Botswana's northwest as the El Nino-induced drought takes its toll on wildlife.

In Botswana, home to one of the world's largest hippopotamus populations, around 500 hippos are stranded as blistering heat dries up water sources, Moemedi Batshabang, director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, told VOA.

More than 200 of the endangered animals are stranded at the Nxaraga lagoon near the town of Maun in the northwest.

The Maun-based Save Wildlife Conservation Fund is working with the wildlife department to save the stranded hippos. The group's director, Lars Gorschlüter, said they are pumping water into the lagoon and giving the hippos food.

"This time it's a bit harder because of missing rainfall that means hippos are trapped in the pool. They don't have much food outside to get, that's why we have to feed them every day with lots of bales of lucerne and others," Gorschlüter said.

Hippos need water to protect their sensitive skin from Botswana's extreme heat.

Gorschlüter has ruled out moving the affected animals to areas with reliable water sources, such as the Okavango Delta.

"We also considered the translocation of the hippos, together with the department of wildlife, but rejected it because of high costs and lack of budget," Gorschlüter said.

Some hippos are also stuck in the mud as water levels recede in the Chobe River, which flows from Namibia.

Namibian authorities this week indicated they are working with their Botswana counterparts to drill more boreholes in hopes of refilling the drying channel.

But local conservationist Map Ives urged authorities to let nature "take its course."

"In a case like this, the hippopotamus, I believe, should be left alone. They have a choice; they can get on their feet, and they can walk. There is always some water within 100 kilometers of where they are. They can walk to that water," Ives said. "The other alternative ... if they are old, weak or sick, is that they will die. Yes, we live in an age where human beings do not want to see animals die, but if you leave nature to itself without human interference, it will balance."

The El Nino drought that has affected much of southern Africa has meant water is scarce, which has destroyed food sources and critical habitats for other kinds of wildlife as well.

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