The Hippopotamus Encounter
by Rod Hackney
Several days of our North Carolina Zoo team's stay in
Cameroon for the elephant collaring project were spent in
the capital of the Northern Province, Garoua.
Garoua has a population of more than 100,000 and,
surprisingly for a town located so far in the interior, it
also has Cameroon's third largest port, situated along the
banks of the Benoue River.
We spent one afternoon driving around the city in a
drizzling rain with our host, Dr. Martin Tchamba, head of
the World Wide Fund for Nature's elephant conservation
programs in Cameroon. And the highlight of the tour had to
be our encounter with "Afrika," the hippopotamus.
Tchamba insisted that we catch this local tourist
attraction down at the river near an abandoned manufacturing
plant. As the story goes, in 1993 four young men found an
infant female hippo, its mother ostensibly killed by
poachers, hanging around a bridge on the edge of town. They
began feeding the animal grain and soon had it
"domesticated" to the point that she tolerated
people surprising well.
The four young entrepreneurs, now in their 20s, have been
able to turn the hippo into their livelihoods. Each day at 6
a.m. and 5 p.m., Afrika, who now weighs several thousand
pounds, comes waddling out of the water to receive her daily
feedings. Hundreds of people flock to the waterfront to see
the hippo and have their picture taken with her for 100
francs (about 25 cents) each.
A tip of 500 francs to Oumarou, one of the hippo's
caretakers, gave our group special access for videotaping,
and frankly, several closer calls with Afrika's gaping jaws
and eight-inch-long teeth than I would have liked. With the
full knowledge that more people are killed in Africa each
year by hippos than practically any other animal, I spent a
lot of time backing away while Oumarou insisted on leading
his pet straight into my video camera lens.
Meanwhile, after lamenting several times that "someone
was going to get killed," N.C. Zoo Chief Veterinarian
Dr. Michael Loomis relented to repeated pleas from the crowd
to at least pet the hippo. Whereupon, Oumaru leaped on the
animal's back facing backwards to show the good doctor just
how tame his hippo actually was. Loomis approached tenuously
to touch the hippo's rump and was suddenly grabbed by the
arms and hoisted onto the animal's back by Oumaru.
Laughing as he dismounted in somewhat less-than-graceful
fashion, the doctor's ride hardly lasted the eight-second
minimum for a rodeo event back home. But the video is going
to make a great conversation piece for the zoo's staff
Christmas party this year.
About the author:
Rod Hackney is the Public Relations Manager at the North Carolina
Would you like to comment on this article?
View printer-friendly version