HIPPOS ECOTOURISM FIND WITH A RISK OF EXTINCTION

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HIPPOS ECOTOURISM FIND WITH A RISK OF EXTINCTION

In 2019, Ghana experienced a surge in tourism after the launch of “The Year of Return” an initiative that promised visitors, especially African Americans a unique connection to their ancestral roots through curated tours of Ghana’s rich historical sites.  As African American celebrities flocked to Ghana in droves, it piqued the interest of others from around the world and propelled Ghana as a great tourist destination.  With that came a plethora of publicity highlighting great tourist sites including, slave forts, the canopy walk, and the monkey sanctuary among others but not once did I hear about Ghana’s hippo sanctuary.

Yes, Ghana has a hippo sanctuary; the Wechiau Hippopotamus Sanctuary, which currently houses an average of approximately 50 hippos. This number is impressive because in 1998/2000, the sanctuary had only two to four hippos and just in two short decades, the average number has increased more than 10 times. In addition to the Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary, Bui, a town in the Northern region also houses a significant number of animals bringing the total population of hippos in Ghana to approximately 155.

So, why is this “find” so important? Well, hippopotami are an endangered species.  According to an article by biologoicaldiversity.org, the African hippopotamus is facing a high risk of extinction and is fast disappearing. The few remaining species are under incessant threats of poaching for parts such as skin, teeth, skulls, ivory, and even for meat and they face other dangers from habitat loss and degradation.

Interestingly, after the elephant and white rhinos, hippos rank as the third largest land mammal. They are semi-aquatic meaning they live partly in water and on land. There are two different types of hippos, the large and smaller hippo known as the pygmy, and Ghana has both of these species. 

The African Wildlife Foundation describes hippos’ feet as having “four-webbed toes that splay out to distribute weight evenly and therefore adequately support them on land, and their short legs provide powerful propulsion through the water. The pygmy hippos digits are more spread out and have less webbing and, proportionally, their legs are longer relative to its body size.”  It is encouraging to know that Ghana has a sanctuary for these animals.

Located in the Upper West Region of Ghana, the Wechiau Hippopotamus Sanctuary is a community-based conservation initiative led by regional chiefs and community leaders with the collective aim of protecting the species and ecotourism.  The tranquil Black Volta River that borders Ghana/Burkina Faso is the habitat for the hippopotamus and the Wechiau Sanctuary provides visitors with a serene canoe ride and an educational tour to the location of groups of Hippos.

This initiative is laudable for several reasons; currently, Hippos around the world are slaughtered as trophies and for commercial trading posing a real threat to the extinction of the animals. The Wechiau Hippopotamus Sanctuary provides a safe haven for the animal population to grow and thrive, thus safeguarding them from extinction.  In addition, the Sanctuary provides jobs for locals in the area and is a great site for tourists from around the world and other regions of Ghana.

What about the Bui hippo conservation which constitutes the larger number of Ghana’s total hippo population? Well, juxtaposed to the thriving Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary, the state of Bui’s hippos has been somewhat controversial in recent times because of the government placement of the hydroelectric power dam project on rivers in the local area, which are also the habitation for the hippopotami.

A recent article by the Rufford Foundation notes that the new dam makes the present conservation status of the hippo population in Bui “uncertain” and suggests that it is imperative to understand the current population dynamics and urgently raise awareness of the conservation status of the species. Evidently, there is work to be done in sustaining Ghana’s hippopotamus population.

As citizens, residents and visitors we can all help – next time you think about touring sites in Ghana, consider Wechiau Hippopotamus Sanctuary or the Bui National Park.  Both facilities are located in the Northern Region of Ghana, an hour from the capital city, Accra.  Once in the Northern Region in addition to Wachiau and Bui, there is a range of tourist sites to consider including the Mole National Park, Laribanga Mosque, and Mognori Eco-village among others.

Finally, in this age of corporate social responsibility, foreign entities doing business in Ghana should consider supporting initiatives such as the Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary and the hippopotamus conservation efforts in Bui.

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