September 17, 2005
Why Can't I Have A Pet Hippo?
I used to joke with one of my Australian friends that when he came to visit me, I wanted him to bring me a pet wallaby. I've changed my mind. I think I want a hippo instead, but I don't know if I could afford the coffee bill...
A couple of years ago, a South African family rescued a 35-pound orphaned baby hippopotamus. They bottle-fed her and several years later, she's the world's only tame hippo.
Jessica... who now weighs 600kg, spends her days grazing the front lawn
She is free to swim off and rejoin wild hippos who regularly pay her visits, but she remains faithful to the Jouberts. She sleeps on the couple's verandah on a mattress at night, and wakes up at 6am for her dog biscuits, bowl of wheat bran and coffee.
She never leaves the Jouberts' side - even turning a key in a locked door to get into the house, where she watches television with them at night.
And when Jessica fancies a swim in the river, Mrs Joubert accompanies her down to the bank and swims on Jessica's back, arms around her neck.
"When I swim with her in the river, she's so gentle she lets me ride on her back and we swim together."
Jessica drinks up to 20 litres of weak coffee each day.
If she's swimming in the river and Mr Joubert calls her, she heaves herself up the bank and follows him.
Okay, so this story is weird on SO MANY LEVELS...
Firstly, I think it's great that this family saved an abandoned baby hippo, but I have to wonder if they live out in the boonies. The last thing I would want is for someone to be surprised by a full grown hippo when they knocked on the front door.
Hippos are the third largest land animal (after elephant and rhino) and they are very dangerous animals - killing more people per year than all the other dangerous predators combined (crocs, lions, leopards, hyenas, elephants, etc.)
That said, they are such unbelievably cool animals! I fell in love with hippos when we spent a night chilling at the Shimuwini Bush Camp in Kruger National Park. Our cabin was right on the Letaba River. A bloat (a group of hippos) hung out across the riverbank, as well as in the water. I had never heard them vocalize before, and was very surprised but their cute snorting grunts.
We were visiting in early spring and so there were several young hippos in the group. The mothers were very protective of their babies. The babies, who couldn't swim, bounced up and down on their mothers' backs in order to reach the surface to breathe. At one point, we even witnessed a lioness attack a mother and baby, only to have the mother hippo cause some serious damage to the lioness, saving her baby.
What I think is especially interesting about this crazy coffee-drinking hippo is that it leads me to believe that hippos may be a lot smarter than generally thought. They aren't just highly territorial grumpy "river horses". Perhaps hippos haven't been studied more because their attitude makes them less tolerate to invasive intelligence research and testing, but I would have expected some understanding of their intelligence to be discovered by zoo hippo keepers...
However, it doesn't surprise me terribly that hippos are smarter than we thought. Recent DNA studies related evolutionary family trees have shown that hippos are the closest relatives to cetaceans like whales and dolphins. We all know that whales and dolphins are intelligent, so it makes sense that their closest relative, the hippo, is as well.
All I know, is that if I get myself a pet hippo, I had better get a pygmy one, since I live in a townhome in California, and the koi pond in the backyard is pretty small.
Check out our Frolicking Hippos podcast - a video program highlighting these playful animals!
Check out our Kenya Waterhole podcast - a video program experiencing a sunrise in Africa!
Posted by sorsha at September 17, 2005 9:50 PM
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