Sunday, May 4, 2008

Pet hippo becomes a weighty problem

By Nigel Blundell
Last Updated: 1:01pm BST 19/06/2007

  • In pictures Jessica the pet hippo
  • When a newborn baby hippo was washed up by a flood onto the lawn of his riverside home, the game ranger who found the dying animal lovingly nursed her back to health.

    Top: Jessica with Tonie Joubert, who raised her and Bottom: relaxing with one of the other pets
    Top: Jessica with Tonie Joubert, who raised her and Bottom: relaxing with one of the other pets

    The weakened female survived, put on weight, and grew . . . and g-r-e-w . . . and GREW!

    Now the hippo that thinks it's a family pet has become a giant-sized problem.

    For what started out as a cute, tubby 35lbs baby is now a boisterous seven-year-old - equivalent to a human 'teenager' -.weighing nearly three-quarters of a ton.

    And like many modern teenagers, Jessica, as she has been named, finds family life too comfortable and just won't leave home.

    Attempts to reintroduce her to the wild have all failed. And, being free to roam, the danger now is that she will be attacked and killed by other hippos - or shot by local farmers protecting their animals and crops.

    As our pictures show, the reason Jessica prefers family life to that of a wallowing big hippopotamus are clear...

    She eats, sleeps, swims and plays with retired game warden Tonie Joubert and wife Shirley at their home in South Africa.

    She wanders round the house, drinks coffee on the verandah, hangs out with the pet dogs and enjoys Shirley's soothing massages that help her relax at the end of a happy hippo day.

    The hippo greets Tonie, in particular, with special grunts and flicking ears whenever she sees him and follows him like a dog wherever he goes.

    There is no strict daily routine, but certain crucial things must not be missed - such as the 10 litres of sweet warm coffee, which Tonie bottle-feeds her with every day, or the dog pellets which she expects as treats.

    Most nights, Jessica totters off back to the river for a mudbath. But on other occasions she'll wander into the house, wet and dripping slime and plonk herself on the couple's bed.

    It is becoming a problem because - unlike the famous hippo in the Silentnight bed adverts - she has broken the Jouberts' bed three times.

    Even larger trouble looms because, being a big girl now, giant male hippos are beginning to turn up on the river's edge fronting Jessica's human home.

    She became friendly with one of them, a 10-year-old bull nicknamed Charlie. But when he was shot by a neighbouring farmer, it also killed off hopes of finding Jessica a mate and sending her back into the wild.

    "Jessica is so trusting," says Shirley. "Our constant fear now is that the same fate as Charlie's may befall our precious Jess, the gentlest creature on Earth."

    Says Tonie: "Some people have told me I was wrong to save Jessica. They say you have to be cruel to be kind and that I should have left nature to go its own way.

    "But that would have guaranteed she ended up in a crocodile's stomach.

    "And look at the joy and companionship we would have missed out on."

  • The story of the extraordinary friendship between human and hippo is told in 'Jessica the Hippo', to be shown on the Animal Planet channel on Thursday, June 28 at 9pm.
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