Following reports that the Los Angeles Zoo has begun offering visitors a “Hippo Encounter Tour”—in which members of the public, including children, are allowed to touch dangerous hippos, including a mother and her baby, even though the mother is likely to protect her baby against perceived threats—PETA has contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today calling for an investigation into the practice. PETA believes that the tour violates the Animal Welfare Act, which mandates that barriers should separate potentially dangerous animals from visitors.
As the Los Angeles Zoo has itself acknowledged in the past, hippopotamuses are dangerous and aggressive mammals who kill more people than any other mammal in Africa. Depriving a mother of the opportunity to raise her baby in peace without the continuous stress of strangers approaching her, eager to touch her, is dangerous to visitors and animals alike.
A human-wildlife conflict study in Uganda revealed that hippopotamus arttacks are the most deadly of any wild mammal in that country, with a casualty rate of 86.7 percent. In 2014, a hippopotamus attack in Niger resulted in the death of 13 people, including 12 children. Mother hippos are particularly dangerous, often attacking crocodiles, lions, or anyone they perceive as a threat to their calf. At the St. Louis Zoo, a zookeeper was attacked by a mother hippo and sustained a broken leg and lacerations, and the zoo’s then-director believed the mother attacked because she perceived a threat to her baby.