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Friday, July 18, 2008

Surfing Hippo, South Africa

Hippopotamus is derived from the Greek πποπόταμος which means river horse. It turns out the Afrikaans name for the hippo, "Seekoei", is sometimes more accurate. Seekoi means Sea Cow and this hippo was indeed captured surfing in the ocean at Thompsons Bay, Balito, South Africa this May.

The hippo, a 2 ton adult male, had been moving south on the KwaZulu-Natal coast for a couple of months but in Balito it was approaching far more populated areas on the outskirts of Durban.

Video posted on youtube by "Coatesman".

Lionel van Schoor, a wildlife ranger from KZN Wildlife, a conservation group in KwaZulu-Natal, warned it might have to be shot dead if it did not turn around because they could not use tranquiliser darts. He said: "This one would drown if we darted him in the water, and if we tried to dart him on the beach, he would run into the water for safety and again drown when the drug takes effect. "If the hippo moves any further south there is huge risk. If he does not retrace his own steps and move back north, there is little hope for him."

Unfortunately the tale did indeed end sadly. Nkululeko (meaning freedom), as the hippo became affectionately known a had to be put down in July. There was great concern for the safety of residents and the municipality deemed that neither passive nor darting capturing would be successful. The Animal Rights Activists requested and were granted a until July 28th to capture Nkululeko but before that date the hippo allegedly killed a local resident. Regretfully, sometime during the night of July 12/13, there was an incident during which the hippo killed a male resident of the area. The factual circumstances of this tragic incident are not clear.

A more fortunate wandering hippo was Huberta who, over three years starting in 1928, completed a 1600 km (994 mile) wander from St Lucia in KwaZulu-Natal past Balito (where Nkululeko surfed), all the way to the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Huberta, originally known as Hubert because she was thought to be male, successfully evaded many attempts at capture before eventually making her way as far south as East London. There, although having been declared en-route to be Royal Game, and thus protected by the Crown, she was shot and killed by hunters. Her body was then reverently shipped to a taxidermist in London, after which she was returned to South Africa where she can still be seen at the Amathole Museum in King William’s Town.

The African River Horse a.k.a. Hippo generally prefers fresh water but will use any nearby water source especially to stay cool during the day. Despite their physical resemblance to pigs and other terrestrial even-toed ungulates, their closest living relatives are cetaceans (whales, porpoise, etc.).

Other cases of Surfing hippos:
Gabon, West Africa: National Geographic: "In the land of Surfing Hippos"

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