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Less than 30 years ago, over 29,000 hippos lived in this world heritage site on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This year's census shows that only 1,300 remain. The census was carried out by the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN), WWF, and other conservation organisations during March and August.

There is increasing international demand for hippo canine teeth in the illegal ivory trade. The census showed that armed factions are killing hippos in shockingly high numbers for their meat and teeth in response to this growing trend.

"This is disastrous news for the hippo," said Dr. Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF International's Species Programme. "Unless this trade is closely controlled and poaching is stopped, hippos will be threatened with extinction. WWF urges the government to take advantage of recent peace agreements and to put into place proper planning and management of the country's natural resources."

Until this year, the Park has been at the heart of interfactional fighting, preventing ICCN and WWF from working in significant areas. WWF calls on the DRC authorities to work with conservation groups to stop poaching hippos in the Park and to conserve wildlife.

"Hippos are extremely important in maintaining the ecological balance in rivers and lakes and nearby grasslands," says Marc Languy of WWF's Eastern Africa Regional Programme. "Hippo dung provides essential basic elements for the food chain, particularly for fish. The loss of more than 27,000 hippos in the past few decades is a double blow: fish catches have dwindled and the freshwater ecosystems are losing hundreds of tons of nutrients every day. Lake Edward supports over 20,000 people living around the Park who depend on fish for their livelihood."

The need for long-term protection of national parks and other valuable protected areas will be at the heart of the forthcoming 5th World Parks' Congress in Durban, South Africa (8-15 September).