Where do you put two hippos when their exhibit is under construction? When the buildings of their holding areas have to get torn down and built back up? You’d think they’d go to another zoo, another building, or even just a big pool. Instead, they ended up in my backyard.
I’m not entirely sure why my backyard was chosen. We don’t have a pool. We have old fences, but I suppose it’s because it’s the biggest of my coworkers and the fences didn’t matter. Some men came out and changed the yard with a proper perimeter to hold the hippos. Then a big truck came by and dropped them off and they looked absolutely confused.
I worked with our two hippos a lot to make sure they were comfortable. I figured my coworkers would help, but they had other animals at their own homes to worry about, so my mother and brother helped me instead. The youngest hippo didn’t like being in the yard. She stood in place for the longest time until we were able to get the sprinkler going for her. As for the oldest hippo, she threw a bit of a fit. Good thing those men fixed the perimeter, otherwise a hippo would be loose in the neighborhood.
As time went by, they calmed down and begrudgingly accepted their new home. Two hippos on the yard killed the grass and their weight allowed greater and greater puddles to appear when it rained. Guess they’re getting their pool.
You’d think the neighbors would realize two hippos appeared next door, but it wasn’t until some strange man came around that the publicity came. I was getting the hose going to spray the hippos down (the youngest openly loves it, but the oldest saunters over and tries not to admit that she loves it) when this strange man comes into my backyard. He didn’t see me (I was under the deck), but he whistles when he sees the hippos. A large smile crosses his lips and he starts saying words I didn’t understand. I waited. I couldn’t sense this man’s intentions and I was trying to decipher his words. Then, my mother comes around the corner of the house with hay for the hippos. I think she only heard two words from the man, but she knew exactly what he said.
“Get out of here!” My mother shouted. She dropped the hay and waved her arms. “You’re not taking these hippos to any restaurant!”
Horror gasped from my lips and I finally realized the man’s intentions. He wanted to steal our hippos! He wanted to sell them to some black market to be used for their meat! I ran out from under the deck and blocked the man from getting further into the yard. He tried to shove past me, but somehow I was able to fight him off. When our commotion started to attract the neighborhood, he turned tail and fled to his partner who had a huge truck waiting. We may have gotten rid of him, but we then got the attention of the entire neighborhood and soon the media.
Everyone wanted to see the hippos in my backyard. Cameras flooded the streets. My mom and brother fought them off and I tried my best to keep the hippos calm. Thankfully, the hole they were making in the center of the yard grew bigger every time it rained and I tried digging it out more when we closed them off for feeding. I kept sprinklers going and hippo-sized toys in the yard to try and distract them from the ever growing crowds. My neighbors were charging people who wanted to enter their backyards and peer closer at the hippos. We put tarps on the fences to give the hippos their privacy. As much as I enjoyed taking care of these girls. I wished more and more that the construction on their exhibit was complete.
The publicity got so bad that my family and I had to rotate night shifts just to keep an eye on the hippos. Some people were trying to sneak into the yard and “pet” the hippos. Don’t they realize that hippos are the most dangerous mammal in Africa? I don’t even go in with them! We attempted to educate the public about hippos. Newscasters would try to peer over the fence, but I would go out and attempt to explain why the hippos were in my backyard. I’d tell facts and try to get the public to understand that our hippos weren’t in danger. They weren’t mistreated. That they had access to fresh water and we fed them every day. I even gave the older hippo her joint meds every morning. These hippos were receiving the best care under the circumstances and their exhibit at the zoo should be done soon. At least, I prayed it would be done soon.
Between caring for the hippos, taming the media, and our night shifts, my mother, brother, and I were growing exhausted. I remember watching over the hippos one night and I dozed off. It was hard not too. I was tired, the night was calm, and sleeping hippos look so peaceful. A noise woke me up. I wasn’t sure what it came from. I saw shapes in the dark of the night and horror cluttered my stomach when I realized two young men were sneaking into the hippos’ yard. My two hippos didn’t notice the men at first. They were in their pool, sleeping, and they only come up every five minutes to take a breath. I knew it wouldn’t be long until they noticed the intruders.
I grabbed a searchlight from the kitchen and shined it on the young men, hoping that if they realized they were caught, they would flee the exhibit. Yet, I also had to be careful not to shine the light on the pool and wake the hippos. The men froze when the light hit him and I tried to commit their features to memory. One was white with a dirty, butchered ponytail. The other was black with a very short haircut. They were both wearing loose sports gear. I whispered harshly for them to get out of there and, for a moment, I thought they would listen, but then the white man suddenly turned toward the pool. Our older hippo just popped up for a breath of air and the young man tried shoving her nose back under. He wasn’t successful, but he successfully woke her.
I yelled for them to run. I’ve always known our hippos to be pretty chill and only have an attitude if the pool was too small or something about their environment changed. However, my coworkers, my mother, my brother, and I NEVER entered their space.
The older hippo wasn’t happy with the fact that the young men where there. She tossed back her head and opened her mouth to 150 degrees to display her tusk-like teeth. The young men jumped back, but they were smiling. They were getting a thrill out of this. They were nothing more than adrenaline junkies and that really ticked me off. I couldn’t let my hippo have them though, no one deserved that. While the older hippo started charging out of the pool, I began banging everything on the deck. I was trying to make as much noise as possible to pull her attention off of the young men so that they could escape the yard, but it wasn’t working.
The black young man got smart and actually sprinted for the perimeter to scale it, but the white young man must have thought he was a matador to hippos. He dodged out of the way of the hippos first charge. To some relief, the younger hippo appeared to have woken up, but she just stared bug-eyed at the young man and her roommate. I got the impression she wasn’t going to leave the pool.
The young man’s luck as a matador soon ran out. The older hippo knocked him down with her head like it was a warhammer. My shouts and banging were all in vane. Horror paled my face as she lifted up and came down on his legs, snapping them like twigs. I’ll never forget his screams.
It took me lobbing one of the large, plastic balls the hippos play at her to get her attention off of him. I leaned into the yard to try and entice her to come over. It took my foot going through the thick fencing to finally do it. She came charging over and the young, black man jumped back into the yard to pull his anguished friend out. I still thank God to this day that the younger hippo decided to remain in the pool.
It was all said and done. I sat back on a bench, staring at the older hippo through the fencing as she stared back at me. My hand covered my mouth and tears rolled down my cheeks. By this time, my mother and brother woke up and they were taking care of everything, calling the authorities, dealing with the young men, and fighting the media. I spotted my neighbors with cell phones up. Who knows how long they had been recording. All I could think of was how foolhardy those young men were. Trespassing in the territory of probably the most territorial animal on the planet! WHAT were they thinking?! I hoped those young men were thrown in jail. I didn’t care if the one would ever be able to walk again. All I cared about was the hippo in front of me. She was just defending herself. Defending the younger hippo in the pool and yet, because she attacked a human, she could face the death penalty.
I contacted my supervisor who contacted the curators of the zoo. Hippos in a neighbor were never a good idea no matter how many times “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas” plays on the radio. Tonight proved just how dangerous even zoo animals can be. Moving forward, the zoo plans on making better choices and they encourage the public to do the same.
As for my hippos, they’re both fine. They got transferred to a new facility, a securer facility where only people who respect them can get near them. It was a long and hard battle to keep authorities from harming either hippo. I lost my position due to the fact that I was the one who fell asleep on watch.
As much as I wish the story of backyard hippos had a happy ending, all that’s left is the lesson learned: All animals should be respected else they’ll lash out.
This was not a true story and was based on a dream.
The photo featured in this post is of a hippo’s footprint.