Bwabwata — About 107 hippos have been recorded dead as from October 2 to date in the Mahango area of Bwabwata National Park in Kavango East Region.
Officials in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) suspect the hippopotamuses are dying as a result of a lethal anthrax disease and have dispatched state veterinarians to the area to assess for and confirm the prevalence of the disease.
Two of the hippos were discovered dead in the Kavango River outside the park. New Era toured the park on Saturday with the help of park warden Jonas Hausiku and one could see hippo carcasses scattered by the river in the park and over streams of stagnant water that link with the river.
"This is a situation that we have seen before. It happened in Zambia before and it mainly occurs when the level of the river is so low... Our scientist will advise properly, but we suspect it is anthrax.
"This is a natural cause and with the animals dying people should not panic, as it won't negatively affect tourism in the area," said Colgar Sikopo the director of parks and wildlife management in the MET.
The lethal bacteria can frequently be found in pools of stagnant water that form during the dry season and because of their semi-aquatic nature hippos are particularly vulnerable to anthrax contamination, which is probably why the massive die-off is happening.
According to Sikopo, this is happening in Bwabwata for the first time, but it has happened before between 2003 and 2004 within the Namibian borders of the Kasika Conservancy in eastern Zambezi, where a few hippos and mainly elephants succumbed to anthrax.
Inhabitants of the area have been warned not to eat the meat of these dead animals and not even to come in contact with it, as they could contract the potentially fatal disease.
"We strongly advise that they must not consume this meat. What we are doing is we are trying our best to burn every carcass to prevent further spreading of the disease, but also to ensure that no person gets to these animals and starts feeding on the meat," Sikopo said.
In 2004, an estimated 300 hippopotamuses in Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park died after drinking water contaminated with anthrax. It happened again in 2010 when 82 hippos and nine buffalo died after drinking contaminated water in that park, but the MET hopes the situation in Bwabwata can be contained to minimise more deaths.
Bwabwata is a national park located in north-east Namibia. The park was established in 2007 and measures 6,274 square kilometres in size. It was created from the Caprivi Game Park in the then Caprivi Region and Mahango Game Reserve in the then Kavango Region.
Bwabwata spreads over the Zambezi and Kavango East regions, extending along the Zambezi Strip. It is bounded by the Kavango River to the west and the Kwando River to the east. Angola lies to the north and Botswana to the south.
The park is a popular destination for tourists, as it forms part of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area and has wetland areas that host a significant number of wetland animals.
The park also hosts a large number of elephants and is an important migration route from Botswana to Angola for elephant and other game species.
It is unusual for a protected area, as about 5,500 people live in the park. The government actively involves local residents and their neighbours in planning and managing the park.