In most countries, it is illegal to hunt, kill or eat hippopotamuses. Hippos are classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, so they are protected in many African nations where they live. However, some African countries do allow regulated hippo hunting, and hippo meat may be eaten or sold in those places. Overall, it is quite rare for hippo meat to be legally obtained and consumed outside of Africa.
Can You Legally Eat Hippo Meat?
The legality of eating hippo meat depends entirely on where you are located and how the meat was obtained. In general, it is illegal to hunt, kill or consume hippos in most countries, but there are a few exceptions.
In many African countries, hippos are a protected species due to decreasing populations. Hunting, killing and eating hippos is illegal in countries like Malawi, Niger, Liberia, Rwanda and Mauritius among others. However, regulated trophy hunting and consumption of hippo meat is legal in some African countries including Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Uganda. In these places, permits are required and strict annual hunting quotas limit the number of hippos that can be killed. The meat may be eaten by the hunters or sold locally.
In the United States, hippos are not a native species so they are not subject to hunting regulations. However, it is illegal to import, export, sell, purchase or transport hippo parts, including meat, under the African Elephant Conservation Act. The only exception is for bona fide scientific or educational purposes with proper permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. So it is essentially illegal to possess, eat or sell hippo meat in the U.S.
Like the U.S., hippos are not native to the UK. Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), it is illegal to import or export hippo meat without permits. Within the UK, possession and sale of illegal hippo meat may be penalized under the Control of Trade in Endangered Species Regulations 2018. So it is very difficult to legally obtain and eat hippo in the UK.
Why Eating Hippos is Controversial
Even where hippo hunting and consumption is legal, it remains a controversial practice due to a few key factors:
Vulnerable Species Status
Hippos are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Their populations have declined between 7-20% over the last 10 years due to habitat loss, poaching and hunting. They are already locally extinct in some of their former ranges. Further hunting pressure could negatively impact fragile hippo populations.
Role in the Ecosystem
As large semi-aquatic grazing herbivores, hippos play an important ecological role in their habitats. They maintain trails through vegetation used by other wildlife, transport nutrients from land to water, and their dung provides food for fish and insect larvae. Removing hippos can detrimentally alter the ecosystem.
Animal Welfare Concerns
Many people object to hippo hunting on ethical grounds regarding animal suffering. Hippos are shot on land or in water, and ethical kills are not guaranteed. Death by gunshot can involve prolonged pain and distress. This has led to public criticism of the practice in some African countries.
In places where hippo hunting is permitted, the resulting hippo teeth, meat and hides may still illegally enter international commercial trade. Weak regulation allows protected hippo parts to be smuggled to consumer countries, stimulating more poaching.
Nutritional Profile of Hippo Meat
Hippo meat that is obtained through legal regulated hunting is still consumption and sold in some parts of Africa. Here is an overview of its nutritional composition:
Hippo Meat Nutrition Facts
|Per 100g of Hippo Meat
– High in protein – Hippo meat is an excellent source of protein. A 100g serving provides 21.4g protein, fulfilling 43% of the daily value.
– Low in fat – Hippo meat contains minimal fat, with only 2.06g per 100g serving. It provides healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
– Rich in potassium – With 312mg potassium per 100g serving, hippo meat can help maintain fluid balance, blood pressure and electrolyte levels.
– Iron – Hippo meat contains 2.31mg iron per 100g, assisting in oxygen transport and energy metabolism.
– Low in sodium – A 100g serving has just 51mg sodium, supporting healthy blood pressure.
– No carbohydrates – Hippo meat contains zero carbs and sugar. It’s optimal for low-carb, keto and paleo diets.
So in regions where it can be obtained, hippo meat is an excellent lean protein source, high in nutrients like potassium, iron and B-vitamins. However, sustainability and welfare concerns may still deter people from consuming it.
Taste and Texture
The flavor and texture of hippo meat is comparable to mild-tasting game meats like deer or antelope:
Hippo meat is described as having a mild, meaty and faintly gamey flavor. It lacks the strong gamey taste of wild boar or some deer. When cooked, the flavor is similar to grass-fed beef but with a slightly liver-like essence. The meat tends to be low in connective tissue and fat, so the flavor is lean rather than rich and fatty. Overall, hippo meat has a mildly gamey but still palatable flavor for most tastes.
The texture of hippo meat is lean and firm, with a fine grain like cattle. Since hippos are huge, dense animals, their muscle tissue is well-developed and coarse but not tough. When cooked, hippo meat becomes tender while still having a pleasantly dense and meaty texture. The lack of fat means hippo meat can become dry if overcooked, so medium-rare to medium doneness is ideal. Properly cooked hippo has a lean, tender and mildly dense texture suitable for most meats.
How to Cook Hippo Meat
To bring out the best flavor and texture, hippo meat should be prepared using moist cooking methods at medium doneness:
Moist Cooking Methods
Lean meats like hippo can dry out easily with high-heat dry cooking methods. For optimal moisture and tenderness, hippo meat should be braised, stewed, or cooked in liquid like a curry or soup. Slow, moist cooking breaks down the dense muscle fibers. Barbecuing hippo over low heat with a mopping sauce also works well.
Hippo meat should be cooked to medium rare (130F-135F) or medium (140F-145F) doneness to retain moisture and tenderness. Well done hippo meat (over 160F) will become tough, dry and stringy. Use a meat thermometer to monitor internal temperature.
Marinades & Rubs
Marinating hippo meat before cooking can tenderize the dense flesh and infuse more flavor. A yogurt marinade works well. Dry rubs with salt, pepper and spices can also improve hippo’s mild taste.
Hippo leg, shoulder, rib and shank cuts are best for braising until meltingly tender in liquid like broth, tomatoes or wine. Brown the meat first for richer flavor.
Hippo loin, sirloin, rib and tenderloin chops can be quickly grilled. Use lower heat to avoid drying out the lean meat. Chops only need grilling for 1-2 minutes per side when medium-rare.
In summary, always use moist cooking techniques for hippo meat cooked to a medium internal temperature. This ensures tender and flavorful results.
Where to Buy Hippo Meat
Due to the rarity and controversy of hippo meat, it can be extremely difficult to find for purchase compared to common meats. Here are a few ways it may be possible to obtain hippo meat:
In some countries where regulated hippo hunting is permitted like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Uganda, hippo meat can be purchased directly from licensed hunters, butcheries or markets in hunting zones. Availability is inconsistent and often seasonal.
A few specialty meat importers and distributors occasionally offer legally-obtained hippo meat from African countries, though availability is sporadic. Prices are very high.
Rare game meats like hippo may be listed for sale on auction/classified sites, but legality is questionable. Products may be removed for violating policies on protected species items.
Some companies like ExoticMeats.com sell canned hippo meat imported from Africa, typically from old stock. Supply is highly limited and expensive.
In some large cities with expatriate African communities like London and Brussels, frozen hippo meat may rarely be available for sale in African food markets. Legality verification is necessary.
Not Available Commercially
In most of the world including the Americas and Asia, hippo meat is not available for legal commercial sale as the trade is prohibited.
Realistically, the chances of finding genuine legal hippo meat is extremely low in much of the world. Verifying legality and traceability is also difficult. Due to hippo conservation status, finding and eating hippo will likely remain extremely rare outside certain African regions.
Is Hippo Meat Safe to Eat?
Although it is legally hunted and consumed in parts of Africa, there are some potential safety risks associated with eating hippo meat:
Hippos bioaccumulate heavy metals like mercury in their tissues from living in rivers. Their meat may contain concentrations exceeding safe health guidelines depending on the water body.
Common parasites like trematodes, sarcocystis and trichinella may infest hippo meat if it is not thoroughly inspected or cooked to recommended minimum internal temperatures.
Hippos are susceptible to lethal anthrax outbreaks in Africa. Eating meat from infected hippos before full rigor mortis can transmit anthrax to humans.
Mad Cow Disease
While extremely rare and unproven, hippos are theoretically at risk of prion diseases like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) according to some experts.
Field dressing and butchering hippos can lead to contamination with pathogens like E. coli or Salmonella if clean practices are not used.
Where hippo hunting occurs, meat production is often unregulated without enforced standards on safety, hygiene or testing for contamination.
For these reasons, hippo meat may pose potential health risks, especially when originating from unmonitored sources. Proper cooking, hygiene and safety controls are essential.
Alternatives to Hippo Meat
For those seeking a taste of hippo meat without the ethical issues or safety risks, several alternative game or exotic meats provide a similar eating experience:
Grass-fed steaks have a mildly gamey flavor resembling hippo. Lean cuts like top round best mimic hippo’s dense texture.
Farmed North American bison meat has a subtle wild taste and fine-grained texture comparable to hippo.
Farmed elk meat is another lean red game meat with a mildly tangy flavor and firm texture like hippo.
Deer meat offers the same gamey essence and coarse yet tender texture as hippo when cooked properly.
From wild or domestic hogs, boar meat is widely available with a stronger gamey flavor and meaty chewiness similar to hippo.
Like hippos, yaks are large herbivorous mammals so their meat has a dense, mildly gamey quality.
Unique camelid meats like alpaca offer leanness with a delicate gamey taste profile reminiscent of hippo.
For an experience comparable to eating a vulnerable hippo, these more ethical, sustainable, and safer meats make excellent substitutes. Their flavor and texture provide the appeal of an exotic yet mainstream game dinner.
While it is legal to eat hippos in a small number of African countries, obtaining and consuming hippo meat remains extremely uncommon and controversial worldwide. Hippos are a threatened species that play a vital role in their ecosystems, and hunting them raises animal welfare concerns. Additionally, risks of disease and contamination exist with hippo meat. For these reasons, most people will never have an opportunity or desire to sample its taste and texture. In areas where regulated hippo hunting supports local communities, sustainable quotas help limit impact on the species. But in general, viable alternatives like elk and bison can provide the exotic meat experience without the same ethical and safety challenges. While it may be possible to legally eat hippos in Africa, doing so elsewhere in the world poses many problems – so for most people, hippos are likely to remain a strictly hands-off endangered species.