The common hippopotamus is the world’s third largest land mammal (after elephants and rhinos) and native to the rivers, lakes and swamps of central and southern Africa. Apart from their size, they are identified by their large barrel like bodies, thick nearly-hairless skin and wide mouths containing large canine tusks they use to defend their watery homes.
Their diet consists mostly of grass they graze on late in the day or early in the morning when the weather is cooler. Retreating to the water during the day to escape the heat of the sun, their ears and nostrils are capable of closing completely to allow them to spend up to 5 minutes underwater!
Identified as a vulnerable species, it is estimated there are fewer than 150,000 left in the wild. The hippo population has declined most dramatically in the Democratic Republic of Congo, from 29,000 in the 1970s to around 800 now. Hippos have suffered from loss of habitat but are also subject to unregulated hunting and poaching for their meat and teeth which have become a valued substitute for elephant ivory.
THE TURGWE HIPPO TRUST
Named for the Turgwe River in Zimbabwe, this non-for-profit organisation was formed after the successful completion of a feeding program and water supply exercise during a horrendous drought in the south east Lowveld of Zimbabwe in 1991-92.
Founder Karen Paolillo and geologist husband Jean Roger successfully saved the lives of the last 13 hippos left in the Turgwe River over ten gruelling and mostly rainless months. Requiring 1 ton of food a day and the construction of a large cemented water pan for the hippos to live in, they not only saved the hippos but two more were conceived during that period.
Still operating in the Zimbabwe bush, the Turgwe Hippo Trust continues these bold conservation efforts, using water pumps to keep the river alive and healthy as well as employing locals for extra projects and as game scouts to protect them from poachers. They also have two emergency pans they will use to protect the hippos in the event of another decimating drought.