The Trust had just under 70 people visit the hippos during 2011. An increase in visitors thanks to the security situation having calmed down. These people came from the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Tanzania, Australia, Zimbabwe, USA, Germany, Switzerland and Latvia. Considering that just under 1000 people used to come along each year there are still a lot of people out there who have not yet returned to Zimbabwe.
Our Volunteers project is proving beneficial to the Trust. We normally take two people at one time from May to the end of September, usually for a maximum of two weeks. The Trust is helped by the financial donation these volunteers make. Having a couple more pairs of hands to work alongside us with anything that we are doing at the time of their stay is very helpful.
They live with us in this wildlife area where all of the big five African wild animals exist. Some of them wake up in the morning to elephants literally on their doorstep, feeding in the trees below their volunteer’s cottage, or passing underneath the gazebo as the elephants feed on the riverine trees below.
Mirinda Thorpe, volunteer and friend from Australia, spotted a leopard on a drive. The leopard just sat there as we filmed and photographed this magnificent creature, until he casually sauntered away. Most importantly the volunteers stay here not as tourists on safari, but actually living the life we lead for two weeks.
Here are some comments from our Visitors’ book:
“Almost surreal, and absolutely wonderful to see the hippos at such close range in the wild.””The hippos behaved perfectly and accepted me in Karen’s presence”
“Thank you so much for such an amazing and personal experience, one I will never forget”
“What an amazing place to see, a kind, safe place for all animals and a gift for me (from inner London) to appreciate.”
“I will never forget the animals, the people and everything about this place. It’s a hard place to leave and I will miss it”
“It’s a rare thing when legend is surpassed by reality. Today was one such day. I leave here with a sense of magic, already feeling a loss for the Africa of my dreams. Your spirit is captured by your sincerity”
“Guardian of the Hippos” Karen Paolillo. I believe that this is a very fitting title for you for what you do. The love, care, passion and strength that you have for these and every other animal, here and throughout the world, bring a power and voice to them.”
“To be surrounded by wild animals such as hippos, baboons and monkeys who are clearly so relaxed in their surroundings is a once in a lifetime experience”.
We had a visit in 2011 from a UK school group. 16 boys of sixteen years of age who traveled all the way from the UK, Tonbridge school, accompanied by 3 teachers. One of these teachers is Andrew Whittall, son of our neighbour Richard Whittall, Andrew was accompanied by his lovely wife Amy and their young children.
Andrew brought the boys to Humani, his family’s property, so that they could experience Conservation and Community projects first hand. One day was set aside for the boys to come along to the Turgwe Hippo Trust and meet the hippos and some of the animals that share our lives. The head boy, Tiarnon, mentioned at a speech at the nearby safari camp that the visit to the hippos was the highlight of his stay in Zimbabwe.
Alongside the visitors to the Trust, all the people that communicate with me by e-mail actually give me that huge morale boost to achieve what I do here. Often Africa is not the paradise it can be perceived to be. It is a harsh land for one with a European upbringing. Filled with life and death situations, often on a far too regular basis, and this does not relate only to the Natural world. The people that write to me keep me sane.
One has to have a very tough hide, just to survive some of the experiences that come your way. Death of the animals is obviously one of the harshest for me. In 2011 a young male hippo, Kim, was killed. Kim had been pushed out of the family group, probably by his own mother Odile before she gave birth to her new son Ronnie. This is standard hippo behaviour, as all older offspring are attacked by their mother and often chased away from the group when a new baby is to be born.
The mother has to wean her previous youngster completely from her side, as any new milk is for the baby to be and all of her attention has to focus on the tiny calf’s first few months of life. Mother weighs in at around one and a half tons while baby is only about forty pounds at birth and like any baby is totally vulnerable.
Kim was just under three years of age when this happened and he found himself with nowhere to go for safety from other male hippos. He couldn’t join the group of Robin the bull, as there lived as well the young bull Kuckek. He was not allowed to stay with Odile, and so he lived on his own.
For several months he wandered around in the Turgwe River, eventually moving very close to the main Hippo Haven pool where Robin and his family reside. I kept meeting Kim and finding new cuts and scars upon his body. Some of them really awful-looking, like the huge gash he had in one back leg. Yet he was managing to live a solitary life, but he was being attacked by another hippo. This can even be a female hippo if she has a young son, as she does not want competition towards her son from another male.
So Kim continued to be beaten up and sadly there was nothing I could do in such circumstances. In the days before land invasions the hippos had many more natural pools that they could move into. Young males could find somewhere to live without too much threat from other dominant males.
Nowadays about 13 kilometers (8 miles) of the Turgwe River downstream, and about 7 kilometers (4.5 miles) upstream, have been taken over by the illegal settlers, claiming it as their land. There they kill any wild animal that enters their environment, poaching it for meat.
Back in the bad years, on many occasions we saw them actually throwing rocks at the hippos to frighten them away from the pools, and when we tried to discuss this with them they were extremely violent towards us. The hippos finally left those pools for good and hardly ever return to those areas anymore.
So Kim had nowhere safe to really hide out. I was hoping he could continue to keep as low a profile as possible, but in October 2011 I found his lifeless body in a channel in the river where he had moved to. There was spoor of at least two large hippos around him and by the marks on Kim it was a hippo that had killed him.
As you can imagine, this is exceedingly hard to live with, but I have to tell myself that in some ways it is a natural event even though man has interfered by chasing the hippos away from areas that they used to live in. Other male hippos though, thank goodness have survived. For example Chubby and Tandee, both males, moved away in early 2011 some 14 kilometers downstream and both are still very healthy and leading a happy life. Kim was not so fortunate.
Then another bombshell hit me, one that I am still recovering from and which tweaks my heart strings on a daily basis, leaving me for a while in a very depressed state. That was the death of darling Peaches. Peaches was Cheeky’s daughter, and would have been four years of age in July of this year, but she died in January. I still have no idea what killed her, as she had not a mark upon her body. I found her dead in Bob’s weir pool when I had seen her two days previously perfectly healthy.
When a hippo dies it is necessary to examine it, to take measurements and data if possible. Also, in the case of a hippo dying in a pool used by others (I this instance the water is utilized by our home) you have to remove the body.
Peaches was waterlogged and upside down when I found her. Jean-Roger was away, so with the help of Silas and the game scouts we managed to pull her by lassoing her foot with a rope to the nearest bank of the pool. Here we tied her body to a stump in order to recover it the next day when Jean would be home and we could use the vehicle to pull her out.
When we got her out the next day there was not a mark upon her. So we needed to take the next step and collect samples from Peaches’ organs I order to have them examined by a vet to find out the cause of her death. The first vet, who was stationed 2 hours away on another property (he has since left the area), checked these specimens for anthrax, a very contagious disease that can severely affect hippos and all animals as well as man.
It was not and I didn’t think it would be, as it was the wrong time of the year, but it still had to be checked. Then he sent off Peaches’ remains to another vet in Harare who looked them over, found nothing of much interest and sent them on to Onderstepoort in South Africa. This was in February and I am still (in May) waiting for the results, but apparently that is not unusual. This will cost the Trust money, but we need to know what killed Peaches if it is at all possible. She was perfectly healthy just before she died and her stomach was full of freshly eaten food.
In my heart I still think that it was perhaps a deadly, venomous snake such as the Black Mamba, which could have struck Peaches as she walked through long grass or even grazed grass in which a Mamba was moving. It is the only thing I can think of. If I find out what killed her, of course everyone will be told.
So, two hippos dying and six being born, it means I have to weigh up the negatives against the positives, but my goodness it daily tests me emotionally, mentally and at times physically.
Thankfully my friend Tammie Matson of Animal Works, Australia http://animalworks.com.au/ who, alongside Michael Jeh, of Barefoot in Africa safaris http://www.barefootinafrica.com/ will be operating safaris in the Conservancy and staying at the Turgwe Safari Camp with Humani Safaris. They will be visiting us for two mornings as part of this safari. Animal Works will help out with the uniforms. So all we have to do now is find the monies for two extra men as well as bonuses and rations on a monthly basis.
So we never really have a time here where things are just calm and one can step aside from daily problems to just enjoy the beauty surrounding us and the simplicity of wild animals. That is why in some cases volunteers are such a pleasure, for it allows me for a little while to turn by back on problems. I can enjoy seeing their happiness at their new experiences while they stay with us here at Hippo Haven.
I also once again would like to thank every single person who takes the time to write to me and give me that boost. One girl, Carol Smith, who has visited us here wrote to me recently saying:
“That’s tough news about the game scouts, especially when they play such a very important role with you (as with many others) right now in terms of anti-poaching and the snaring. And of course it always piles on the financial pressure, which never helps. Conservation is a tough business. You’ve had a busy week with all these concerns and holding the fort whilst Jean-Roger recovers (from malaria). I hope you recover your amazing mental and physical strength very soon”
Funnily enough, it is a letter like this that helps me recover my strength. So I thank all of you who care about our lives here and most importantly who support these wonderful animals.
I would like to mention a very special little girl by the name of Leia Dare. Leia’s family contacted me after their little girl died in March of this year. Leia was four years of age when she suddenly died. She came from Devon in the UK. Leia cared passionately for hippos and in memory of Leia they have adopted BonBon, and then decided that in her memory they wished to raise funds for the Turgwe Hippo Trust. To date businesses in their area have contributed over 400 Pounds, and as Charlotte Jones (Leia’s mother) said, those companies have found also a love for hippos thanks to their little girl. Leia is at peace now and I am sure she really is happy to be remembered in such a way through her favourite animals, the hippos.
I would like to give a huge thank you to Laura Simpson of the Great Animal Rescue Chase and Harmony Fund, USA :
Laura is such a hero for animals. We are honored that she has included the Turgwe Hippo Trust as part of her animal partnerships, and thank her with all our hearts for the incredible support she has given to us, and all her other partners, throughout this last year. Laura you are one in a million and we salute you. I really hope that one day you will be able to visit us and meet the animals yourself.
A special thank you to Ruedi Ammann of Switzerland for helping the Trust throughout the year.
Finally, some very good news. It seems that thanks to Mr. Steve Gordon of Canada, the Turgwe Hippo Trust will soon have a “Friends of the Turgwe Hippos” in Canada.
Love to every one of you who has in some way helped us to help the hippos and all the other animals.