TORTOISE & THE HIPPO
rains washed a family of hippos down the river and into the ocean off the coast
of Africa. Residents of the village of Malindi tried in vain to get the hippos
to move back up the estuary. When the Tsunami struck Kenya's coast, Owen was wallowing
with his herd near the mouth of the Sabaki River. Too small to escape the waves
with his family, he was stranded on a coral reef. The
villagers rescued Owen with fishing nets and conservationists
at Lafarge Eco Systems decided to transport Owen to Haller Park in nearby Mombasa,
Kenya. There the hippo immediately ran to hide behind what looked like a huge
boulder. But the 'rock' was actually Mzee,
a 130-year-old male Giant Aldabran Tortoise,
whose name means 'Old Man' in Swahili.
tortoise at first resisted, but a persistent Owen kept following him everywhere
and tried to sleep next to him.
are not known for affectionate or social behavior, nevertheless, Mzee now follows
Owen around, nudges him to go for walks, initiates play in the water, and even
stretches his neck out so Owen can give him a lick. There has been growing evidence
of physical communication between the pair, with Owen nibbling Mzee's back feet
to get him to walk in a desired direction. The two have even developed a sort
of vocal communication of their own. The vocalizations are not the honking of
hippos or the grunts and hisses of tortoises, but rather a soft whimpering that
emanates from one and is mimicked by the other.
In the year since the tsunami struck, the bond between hippo and tortoise has
strengthened, and now the two are inseparable. They rouse each other for meals,
spend hours wallowing in the pond together, and snuggle up side by side each night.
According to Haller Park staff, Owen behaves more like a tortoise than a hippo.
He eats tortoise food, such as leaves and carrots, and ignores the grasses that
hippos normally consume. He sleeps at night, not during the day as wild hippos
do. And he doesn't respond to hippo calls.
who weighed an estimated 660 pounds (300 kilograms) when he arrived at the park,
was two-thirds the size of Mzee. He is now twice Mzee's size and still growing.
Owen's already quite strong and could injure Mzee at any moment. He's very childlike
in his behavior and as he gets older he will get rougher. Owen
could weigh more than 6,000 pounds (2,700 kilograms) when he is grown. Mzee
is not a flexible animal he could be injured. Conservation workers plan
to introduce Owen to a 13-year-old female hippo named Cleo in Spring, 2006. How
Mzee and Owen will react to the presence of Cleo and a subsequent separation is
unknown, but if they cannot live without each other, some sort of accommodations
will be made.
by Mary Lynn who lives in Peoria, Illinois)
STORY VERIFICATION: http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/hippo.asp