The two men died similar, gruesome deaths just hours apart — fatally mauled after getting dangerously close to aggressive hippos that live on Kenya’s Lake Naivasha.
But, outraged critics say, authorities cared more about one than the other.
The first victim was an unidentified local fisherman, on the lake illegally, who was bitten in the chest Saturday by an animal whose bite is strong enough to snap a canoe in half. His death made local news reports but was otherwise unremarked upon by local or wildlife authorities.
The second victim was Chang Ming Chuang, 66, who was with colleagues snapping pictures of the animals near the Sopa hotel when a hippo charged, the Kenya Wildlife Service said. Another man was attacked at the same time but survived. Chang bled to death as paramedics tried to save him.
The Wildlife Service said Chang was a Chinese national, although CNN reported that he was from the self-governed island of Taiwan.
After Chang’s death, the Wildlife Service said in a tweet that it was “sad to announce the death of a #Chinese tourist who was attacked by a #hippo while taking pictures on the shores of Lake Naivasha yesterday evening. His colleague survived with minor bruises and was treated at #Naivasha District Hospital.”
The hippo that killed Chang was tracked and killed. It was unclear what, if anything, authorities did about the fisherman’s killer or whether they have plans to kill it.
Hippos, which National Geographic calls one of the most aggressive animals on Earth, kill 500 people in African countries each year. Six of this year’s killings occurred on Lake Naivasha. The most recent ones have pricked at racial and geopolitical wounds.
“We are saddened by the reaction of KWS officers who were swift to act when a Chinese was killed by a hippo but are dormant when a local is involved,” David Kilo of the Lake Naivasha Boat Owners Association told Standard Media. “On Saturday a local was attacked and killed by a hippo, but KWS officers did not even bother to get information as to how the incident occurred.”
Critics also say that not enough has been done to track or kill other hippos that killed locals on the lake this year.
The lake killings come as anti-Chinese sentiment is rising in Kenya and across the African continent.
China has infrastructure projects in 35 African countries, including in Kenya, which is building a $13 billion railroad connecting the port city of Mombasa to the capital, Nairobi, according to the International Business Times.
In 2016, 200 youths attacked Chinese contract workers, injuring 14, the Times reported. Weeks earlier, 300 youths protested at the CRBC Duka Moja trading center. Their arguments were the same in both instances: Importing Chinese laborers is denying jobs to locals for a railroad Kenya is paying for.
“Why bring cheap labor at the expense of the local community?” Samuel Letoya, one of the protesting youths, told the paper. “We demand to be given the first priority.”
Those issues, of course, are not the fault of the two-ton water-dwelling mammals that slosh in Lake Naivasha. And as the reaction to the attacks has also illustrated, the hippos have their own problems to contend with.
That lakeside land is also prime real estate, and recent construction has encroached on habitat that in the past belonged mostly to hippos.
That means the animals frequently stray onto the grounds of nearby farms and hotels, looking for food and coming dangerously close to humans.
Recent rains had only made things worse. According to the Star, a Kenyan newspaper, the downpours had caused the lake to rise, washing away the plants around the water that the hippos feed on. Their hunger brought them closer to the humans.
“The hippo that attacked the Chinese was looking for pasture near the hotel. This is not the first time,” Kilo told Standard Media. “We have seen a rise in cases of human-wildlife conflict around the lake, and this is mainly due to the encroachment on the riparian land.”
There are signs around the lake warning people about the hippos, and Wildlife Service spokesman Paul Udoto told the Associated Press that attacks on tourists are rare because they are usually accompanied by guides.
Max Bearak contributed to this report.