– Rescuers are continuing the search for those missing but that process is very difficult and dangerous, a district police spokesperson revealed.
HARARE, ZIMBABWE – At least seven people including a baby are now confirmed dead after a hippo capsized a boat that was carrying 37 people, on the Shire river in southern Malawi, on Monday.
The horrific accident occurred in the Nsanje District known for recording deadly floods and canoe accidents every year.
According to Nsanje District Police Spokesperson, Agnes Zalakoma, a lifeless one year old toddler was pulled off the hippo and crocodile infested river, on Monday but six more bodies were recovered two days later, bringing the death toll to seven.
13 people were earlier rescued but 17 were unaccounted for on Monday.
“The ages of those found dead on Wednesday are between 17 and 51,” she revealed.
“The villagers were crossing the Shire River to get to their farms at the Malawian border with Mozambique when the boat they were traveling in was struck by the hippo,” Nsanje District legislator, Gladys Ganda, said.
“Rescuers are continuing the search for those missing but that process is very difficult and dangerous as this part of the river is shallow and easy to be attacked by crocodiles,” Zalakoma said.
Canoe accidents are common on the Shire river which is the largest in Malawi.
“In January, a canoe carrying 15 people capsized in the Shire River after hitting a tree trunk, leaving one person dead and six others missing and feared dead,” Zalakoma added.
Boat accidents are rampant in Malawi due to the unavailability of regular river transport which forces many people to cross lakes and rivers on boats that are sometimes in poor condition, due to the lack of regulations in this sector.
Last month, at least five people died when an overcrowded boat sank in the central district of Mchinji.
Meanwhile Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera sent the country’s minister of water and sanitation, Abida Mia, to the scene.
Ms Mia said locals told her hippos often caused problems in the area and they wanted authorities to relocate some of the animals.
In Africa, there has been a significant rise of cases of hippos attacking boats or people they encounter in the water.
The reason is simple: hippos see humans as a threat to their environment, and in many cases this is true.
Hippos are very territorial animals in the water as they spend most of their time submerged in water in order to keep them cool.
This can be dangerous to people on boats who don’t see a hippo and venture into their territory
However the negative interactions with people, has led to the rise of retaliatory killings of hippos, a key contributor to the species’ conservation status as Vulnerable in Africa.
In Mozambique, Dunham et al. found that people most often killed hippos, elephants, and crocodiles in response to conflict situations, such as wildlife-caused human casualties or crop damage.
Notably, the ratio of animals killed relative to the number of people affected by a species was highest for hippos compared with other wildlife.