An Ugandan government official has warned communities in and near one of the country's major parks not to eat any hippopotami following fears of an anthrax outbreak within the hippo population in the park.
The chairman of the Taskforce for the Control of Anthrax, Nicholas Kauta, told VOA Monday a spate of recent hippopotami deaths from anthrax could spell trouble for humans if necessary precautions are not taken.
"All warm-blooded animals suffer from anthrax once introduced, so it can kill a human being as easily as kill the hippos," Mr. Kauta says. "So we are discouraging generally hunting of hippos. In any case, hunting hippos is illegal in the park."
Mr. Kauta said the government and local authorities have already approached people living inside Queen Elizabeth National Park and warned them not to hunt or eat the animals.
He said the communities responded well and have vowed to obey those instructions. He said he does not know of anyone who has eaten a hippopotamus from there.
There are currently some five-thousand hippopotami living in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Mr. Kauta said that almost 20 have died in recent weeks after eating plants containing bacterial spores that thrive under dry conditions. He said these spores can remain in the body for years and infect at a later date.
He said about the only measure that can be taken to protect more hippos and people from getting anthrax is to dispose of dead hippopotami as soon as possible.
Last year, some 200 hippopotami died from anthrax. Mr. Kauta said those deaths affected the tourist industry.
"When we first got that death going on, we suspended the tourist activities on the water," Mr. Kauta says. "We put out our launch, that simple boat which carries people around for sometime until we had cleared it (anthrax) and we saw it was getting down. So we are definitely concerned."
The anthrax taskforce chairman said it was too early to tell if the latest round of deaths will lead to another outbreak.