On the banks of the Ruzizi River that divides the Democratic Republic of Congo from Burundi, cohabitation between hippopotamus and villagers remains conflictual. Since 2019, at least seven people were killed, six injured by hippos, with hectares of fields laid waste.
Environmental activists have multiplied their calls to establish protection mechanisms for hippos, while locals are calling on the government to repair the damages caused by the giant semi-aquatic mammals.
40-year-old Neema Byamungu Jacqueline, is the mother of eight children, whose 16-year-old son was killed by a hippopotamus in 2017.
“The hippos and I are enemies because they took away my son when he was 16. He was a very smart boy and represented the hope of the whole family. My son was really smart, he was studying and was already in grade two. I was willing to sell my house to finance his studies, but the hippos killed him.”
Kwinanika Lwajonga Jean-Pierre, who sustained a head injury after being attacked by a hippopotamus in 2020.
“I was in the field when a hippopotamus attacked me. I defended myself with my machete but he hurt my skull, right here and I bled a lot. I was sure it was the end for me, that I was going to die right away, but I barely escaped, thanks to God.”
Michael Mibanda, member of the local committee for hippopotamus protection, on the other hand has hope in the mammals.
“We would like for the government to see how it could preserve first, then protect and also assess how these animals could not be a danger for the population, because they are useful to us, the local population, though they have been aggressive towards us up until now, we could benefit from these animals.”
Katogota village, in the Ruzizi plain and home to some 14,000 inhabitants, at the border with Burundi.
The challenge is that people have encroached on the sides of the river in areas where the giant animals habitually forage for food. Officially it is illegal to occupy a 100-metre strip of land along the river banks, but the law is ignored.