Their crime was that they were alleged to have disobey their trainers.

27 hippos were slaughtered in a touristy zone in western Niger by villagers.

The “massacre …started in March and then assumed dramatic proportions” mainly in island settlements on the Niger river, the prefect of the Ayorou region, Jando Rhichi Algaher, told AFP.

Large numbers of hippos and several bird species have made Ayorou, about 200 kilometres (125 miles) from the capital Niamey, a popular place for tourists.

Patrols by troops “have helped slow the slaughter”, Algaher said.

“The locals have killed a large number of hippopotamuses, although this species is protected,” Environment Minister Almoustapha Garba said on state radio.

“We urged the local people not to break the law and took note of their concerns,” said Garba, who promised to pay compensation to the affected farmers.

Tension is high in Ayorou after the arrest of about ten people suspected of killing a hippopotamus. Some of the suspects have been freed, Algaher said.