Sunday, February 19, 2006

Hippo + Tortoise = Kenya's Odd Couple

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A baby hippo and a 130-year-old tortoise are still the same unlikely couple, a year after the hippo was separated from its family by the Indian Ocean tsunami.
The relationship between Owen, the 2-year-old hippopotamus, and Mzee, the giant tortoise, surprised conservation workers and made international headlines.

A baby hippo named Owen walks along with its 'mother,' a giant male Aldabran tortoise, at the Mombasa Haller Park in Kenya.

Owen was living with his family on the Sabaki River when massive waves from the Indian Ocean tsunami reached the East African coast. He was washed into the ocean and stranded on a reef.
Residents of Malindi, a small coastal town, used fishing nets to catch him. He was then taken to the Haller Park sanctuary, where he met Mzee and adopted him as a surrogate parent.

"After it was swept and lost its mother, the hippo was traumatized. It had to look for something to be a surrogate mother," ecologist Paula Kahumbu, who is in charge of Lafarge Park

Owen may have been attracted by Mzee's round shape and gray color, which are somewhat similar to that of an adult hippopotamus.
The tortoise at first resisted. But the persistent Owen kept following him around the park and into the pool, and trying to sleep next to him.

"The hippo follows the tortoise exactly the way it follows its mother. If somebody approaches the tortoise, the hippo becomes aggressive, as if protecting its biological mother," Kahumbu added

"The hippo is a young baby, he was left at a very tender age and by nature, hippos are social animals that like to stay with their mothers for four years," Kahumbu explained

Mzee relented after several days. As the bond grew, the tortoise even returned signs of affection.

They are now inseparable.

Conservation workers plan to introduce Owen to a 13-year-old female hippo named Cleo early next year, hoping to see the two develop a strong relationship.

The female hippo has also lived without companionship from her species — for more than a decade.

The delicate process will begin with having the two animals meet and get used to each other's smell before moving them into a larger enclosure together with the tortoise.
~5-Cat Style


OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Ohhh this is the most wonderful story...So sweet and tander and loving...animals are amazing!!!
Such an unlikely couple and that's what truly makes it so touching!
Sweetie thinks so too...he says "Puuuuurrrrrr".

cat_aunty said...

What a lovely story

imp said...

so totally sweet. and reminds us how animals are really so human.

=^..^= said...

I'm with you guys. This story totally melted my heart. The photographs made even my Dad go, "Awww!"

I'm so glad that the conservation workers plan to keep the tortoise and the young hippo together, even after introducing the youngster to an older female hippo. How very sensitive and considerate of them! :)

~5-Cat Style

markies mate said...

I still have a huge lump in my throat after reading this amazing story. please, oh please keep us updated on owen and mzee's progress.

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