Killing of endangered hippopotamus in Senegal sparks outrage

A hippopotamus was shot down by a hunter in the street in Kédougou, Senegal, on March 31.
A hippopotamus was shot down by a hunter in the street in Kédougou, Senegal, on March 31.

Local residents and activists condemned the killing of a hippopotamus that wandered into the town of Kédougou, in southeastern Senegal, on March 31. Several grisly videos showing a French hunter, operating at the request of local authorities, shooting the animal in the middle of the street circulated online.

Residents of the Dalaba neighbourhood in Kédougou, Senegal, first noticed the hippopotamus at around 5am on March 31, local media reported. Videos shared on social media showed the animal, which is endangered, making its way slowly down the street and occasionally veering toward stone enclosures as crowds gathered to watch.

A security team, including police officers, firefighters and soldiers, as well as staff from the ministry of water and forests soon arrived on scene. Authorities dispatched a call to François Huard, a professional hunter who manages the local safari resort Le Relais, and asked him to kill the animal.

The slaughter was shared on Facebook Live by Abdoulaye Barro, a local journalist. In the video, which now has over 16,000 views, local authorities are seen telling people to move back and creating a security barrier around the hippopotamus, which appears to be trapped in a septic tank. Huard then shoots the animal several times in the head, to cheers from the crowd.

Huard later tells Barro (around the 36th minute of the video) that he had never shot a hippopotamus before and that he fired five shots because the animal was “very solid.”

"It was for everyone’s benefit," Huard adds.

Warning: graphic video below

Another Facebook Live video posted by Barro, which has garnered more than 11,000 views, shows a tractor moving the carcass as onlookers applaud. Barro then interviews a family who say they were frightened when they saw the hippo earlier that day.

Warning: graphic video below

As photos and videos of the killing began circulating online, many local residents and environmental activists condemned the act.

The Dakar Association for Animal Protection said in a Facebook post that it was "saddened" to hear of the hippopotamus killing and that "there is always an alternative solution to murder."

"The animal wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. It got lost and we killed it”

Mamadou D., a resident of Kédougou who wished to remain anonymous, saw the scene unfold.

The hippo was completely trapped in the septic tank. Its two back hooves were stuck and it couldn’t get out. People were throwing stones at it, maybe in an attempt to get it to come out.

I don’t understand why they called in the director of the Kédougou Les Relais safari resort or why the hippo was killed. Security was there, including the police, firefighters and members of the ministry of water and forests, who are trained to handle animals like this one and get them back to their natural habitat.

The whole situation made me think that the authorities aren’t actually qualified to keep us safe. Why didn’t any of them have tranquilizer darts? The animal didn’t want to hurt anyone. It just got lost and we killed it. It made me really sad.

"Killing an animal is only allowed in a legitimate case of self-defense”

Bamba Cissé, a lawyer in Dakar who specialises in crimes against wildlife, said the hippopotamus shouldn’t have been killed.

An investigation should be opened into the incident. The hippo is an endangered species and by law, you can only kill it in a legitimate case of self-defense. But the footage shows the animal was trapped in a septic tank and, at the moment it was killed, it didn’t pose a threat to anybody's life. The man who shot it was breaking the law and could be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

The hunter said the governor had asked him to do it. We also need to open an investigation to determine the circumstances in which a governor has the power to ask a private citizen to kill an animal. The animal did need to be neutralised. Why not shoot to wound and then take it away? But here, [Huard] aimed for the head.

It’s also important to note that, by this point, the hippo had been under the sun for several hours, with no access to water. That's a very difficult situation for a hippo, so it was already in a weakened state when it was killed.

Cissé wrote in a Facebook post that the killing was "unacceptable" and that an investigation should be opened.

Authorities have yet to comment publicly on the incident. But in a video posted on Facebook by Barro, a man who identified himself as Commander Moussa Ndour, who oversees tourist hunting grounds in Falémé and serves as head of wildlife in Kédougou, said the hippo likely wandered into town in search of food. He added that hippos typically feed at dusk and might have tried to enter homes in order to avoid the sun .

"When this animal entered town, it became a public safety issue,” Ndour says in the video. Because there were no tranquilizers available to neutralise the hippo, the governor decided to kill the animal and seek help from a professionnal hunter. The carcass was then buried "very deep in the ground" to limit potential health risks, Ndour adds.

This story was written by Maëva Poulet and Corentin Bainier.