Is hippo meat legal in the US?

Quick Answer

No, hippo meat is illegal to sell commercially in the United States. The hippopotamus is not a native species to America and is not approved by the USDA for human consumption. Some states like Texas and Florida have additional laws banning possession and import of hippo meat.


The hippopotamus is one of the largest land mammals on Earth and resides natively in sub-Saharan Africa. Given their large size and amphibious nature, hippos have long been a source of sustenance and provided meat for many African cultures over history. This has raised questions around whether hippo meat is legal to sell and consume in countries like the United States.

In America, the legality of selling and eating hippo meat comes down to whether the animal is approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as an amenable species for human consumption. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) oversees what meats can legally be sold commercially, and hippopotamus is not a USDA approved meat in America.

Additionally, many U.S. states have their own laws banning or restricting the possession and import of hippo meat and other products. States like California, Texas, Tennessee, and Florida specifically prohibit possessing, selling, or importing hippo parts.

So ultimately while it may be possible to obtain hippo meat through illegal channels, it is not legal to commercially sell or distribute hippo meat in any capacity in the United States.

USDA’s Stance on Hippo Meat

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulate which animal meats are approved as fit and safe for human consumption. The agency must formally recognize an animal as an “amenable species” before its meat can legally be sold for public consumption.

Hippopotamus is not an amenable species according to FSIS and so it cannot be slaughtered for meat or inspected by USDA programs. This effectively bans commercial sale and distribution of hippo meat anywhere in the United States.

The USDA has specific requirements for recognizing new amenable species:

  • The animal must be susceptible to carrying harmful pathogens that can cause human illness.
  • The animal must have a historical record of human consumption either domestically or internationally.
  • There must be available testing and research to prove the animal’s meat is safe for humans when processed properly.

Currently, hippos have not undergone thorough FDA review to determine the safety and health risks of consuming their meat. Hippos can harbor dangerous diseases like anthrax which would require extensive testing and research to mitigate. There are also moral and ecological concerns around harvesting wild hippos.

So until hippos go through a USDA approval process and their meat can be proven safe, they will remain an illegal meat in the U.S. Both selling and purchasing hippo meat would violate FDA regulations.

State Laws on Hippo Meat

In addition to federal laws prohibiting hippo meat outlined by the USDA and FDA, several U.S. states have their own state-specific bans on possessing, importing, or selling hippo products:


California prohibits importing, possessing, or selling carcasses or body parts from any “African elephant, rhinoceros, tiger, lion, leopard, cheetah, jaguar, or hippopotamus.” Offenders may face criminal charges including misdemeanors, fines up to $5,000, and jail time up to 6 months.


Texas law bans the sale, possession, or import of any animal on the state’s Prohibited Exotic Species list, which includes hippopotamus. Violators face misdemeanor charges. There are certain exemptions for accredited zoos.


In Tennessee, it is a class C misdemeanor to import, possess, or sell any dangerous exotic animals. Their definition of dangerous exotic animals includes hippos. Penalties can involve fines up to $50 – $500 and jail time up to 30 days.


Florida’s captive wildlife regulations prohibit acquiring, buying, selling, or breeding hippos in the state. There are exceptions for certain permitted facilities like zoos. Illegal hippo meat trade can lead to second degree misdemeanor charges.

So in these states and others with similar exotic animal regulations, possessing or selling hippo products could lead to criminal charges and penalties on top of federal FDA violations.

Availability of Hippo Meat in the U.S.

While commercial sale and slaughter is banned, it is possible that small amounts of illegal hippo meat makes its way into the U.S. through the black market wildlife trade.

In 2019, the FDA reported confiscating 33 pounds of hippo meat from a shipment originating in Tanzania. The agency speculated the meat was likely headed to American restaurants dealing in exotic African bushmeat.

Bushmeat smuggling does pose a concern, but the supply reaching American consumers is likely very low. And any hippo products discovered by customs officials or law enforcement would be promptly seized and destroyed.

Realistically, the only way someone in the U.S. could legally try hippo meat would be to actually travel to Africa for the purpose of hunting the animal. But the practice is highly controversial and restricted in many areas.

Nutritional Value of Hippo Meat

While unavailable legally in markets, examining the nutritional data of hippo meat can provide perspective:

Nutrient Per 100g of Hippo Meat
Calories 185
Fat 6.2 g
Saturated Fat 2.7 g
Protein 19 g
Iron 4% RDI

Compared to other common red meats, hippo would be relatively high in protein and low in fat. The taste is described as similar to wild boar – dense, deep red, and slightly tough.

From a health perspective, hippo meat poses no unique benefits over traditional livestock. And without supply chain regulation, hippo meat could expose consumers to safety risks like parasites and diseases.

Ecological Concerns Around Hippo Meat

Allowing commercial hippo meat could raise environmental concerns and have an impact on already fragile hippo populations:

– Hippos are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List with populations decreasing across Africa. Increased hunting demands could accelerate extinction risks.

– Male hippos are extremely territorial and killing dominant males can cause disruption to local hippo groups and infanticide in the region.

– Regulating hippo hunting and ensuring meat is disease-free would be challenging in many African countries lacking resources for wildlife management. Unsustainable harvesting may occur.

– Some conservationists argue money from regulated hippo hunting could be used to fund protection for other threatened species and ecosystems in Africa. But ethics are debated.

So while introducing hippo meat to American diets could provide an economic opportunity, it would need to be weighed carefully against potential ecological harms and animal welfare concerns.

Arguments For Allowing Hippo Meat

There are reasons some may argue in favor of legalizing hippo meat in the U.S.:

  • Could provide economic opportunities for impoverished rural communities in Africa that coexist with hippos.
  • Prevents waste of hippo meat from animals already hunted for conservation or killed in human-wildlife conflicts.
  • May satisfy curiosities from Americans interested in novel meats like hippo.
  • Regulated legal trade could undermine the dangerous illegal bushmeat trade.
  • Nutritionally comparable or superior to other red meats people eat regularly.

However, these arguments would need to be weighed seriously against ecological and moral factors. Legalizing hippo meat would require years of scientific research and policy changes at both federal and state levels in the U.S.

Arguments Against Hippo Meat

There are also numerous arguments for keeping hippo meat illegal in America:

  • Hippos are intelligent and emotionally complex animals deserving ethical consideration.
  • They face threats of habitat loss and poaching – increased demand for meat could deteriorate wild populations.
  • Difficult to guarantee hippo products in the U.S. are disease-free and safely harvested.
  • Legal trade could increase desirability and demand for hippo parts fueling risky poaching and smuggling.
  • Hippos are dangerous and difficult to farm – meat would likely be unsustainably sourced from the wild.
  • Biosecurity risks if hippos escape captivity and introduce diseases to U.S. wildlife.

Given these risks and moral issues, many conservationists and activists argue keeping the ban on hippo commercialization is appropriate at this time.


In summary, hippo meat is clearly illegal to sell commercially or possess in the United States. The hippopotamus is not an approved meat animal by the USDA, and selling or importing hippo products violates federal laws. Additionally, several U.S. states outright ban citizen possession of hippo meat or body parts.

Arguments can be made on both sides of legalizing hippo meat, but significant obstacles remain regarding ecological impacts on wild hippos and effectively regulating the supply chain from Africa to America. While limited illegal trade persists, the existing ban on hippo meat reflects issues of public safety, wildlife conservation, and ethics that would require extensive research and policy changes to overcome. For the foreseeable future, hippo meat will likely remain prohibited and unavailable to most U.S. consumers.

Leave a Comment