Dispersing hippo males can sometimes find themselves in serious trouble when they stray into human settlements. Early an on Wednesday morning we received a call from Captain Schalk van Schalkwyk, the commanding officer for the Lenyenye Police. A lone hippo bull had been spotted in one of the sewerage dams and a crowd of people was gathering demanding that the hippo be destroyed as it potentially posed a danger to human life.
Captain van Schalkwyk, an avid animal lover, however wanted to ensure a positive outcome for the hippo and asked for our help. We informed him that to contain a hippo was not all that difficult, but the biggest problem would be crowd control.
We arranged to meet with him and his officers at the dams to devise an urgent rescue strategy and would ensure safety to both the animal’s and humans. Without hours our rescue team returned and fenced the dam in with a three electrical stains preventing the hippo from leaving the pool. Food was placed inside this area and the SA Police Services agreed to provide 24 hour security to ensure no humans would disturb the hippo or aggravate it in any way.
The next day we started with the construction of the holding and capture boma where the hippos was to be lured in using food. On day two we completed this structure and food was placed inside this containment area. It was now a waiting game and once the hippo started feeding inside this confined area, the capture and relocation would be a go.
Unfortunately; or fortunately this hippo bull had other ideas planning and plotting his escape. For four days he had ample opportunity to observe human activity and he ate his fill on the lucerne provided to him. One could guess that as his stress levels diminished and he realised he is safe for now; he had time to think properly about his midnight antics and habit to stroll into human settlements.
He definitely had not intention to cooperate and on the fourth night; just as we planned to capture and relocate him the next evening, he decided to make good his escape. With brutal force he broke through the holding areas thick wooden poles and when the police officers on duty realised what was happening, the hippo was on a fast trot to return on the very same route he used on his walkabouts.
Our team arrived within 45 minutes and took on the potentially dangerous task of tracking the bull. It turned out that we were fortunate to spot him just after day break as he returned to the safety of the Letaba River some kilometres away.
Everyone that worked so hard to help save this hippo’s life was extremely relieved that all worked out for this hippo as in most instances such hippos are destroyed as problem animals and their meat are dispersed to the local communities. In this case however, the community, local police services, SPCA (Letaba Society for the Prevention of cruelty to animals) and Letaba Security all worked with SanWild to help save one hippo’s life.
It was a wonderful opportunity to do some real environmental education, raise awareness and make new friends.