TEMBIA  – Possibly Shot on December 23rd 2022.

Published : 3 Jul, 2023

Son of Bob and Lace, born June 16th 1993. Possibly Shot on December 23rd 2022.

I have been putting off writing this news hoping against hope that I would not have to, but now I feel I have to say what I think has occurred.  On December 23rd 2022 I was given a report by the Save Valley Conservancy director and training instructor of Anti-Poaching and Tracking Specialists (ATS) Bryce Clemence,  that he had seen from the air when doing a routine flight of the area a young hippo, dead, being dragged out of the Turgwe River.   He sent his Rangers to investigate on that property as they were in the area and they found a young dead female hippo had been shot illegally.


Hippos in this Conservancy are not any longer on what they call a quota!  Meaning that they cannot be shot for sport hunting purposes, meat, or as a problem animal.  Unless in a serious situation of a person actually being killed and even then it would be thoroughly investigated. Animals can be killed too if they are deemed to be “problem animals”. An animal supposedly causing damage to crops or man in the local communities surrounding the Conservancy, has to be reported and then the officials that are allowed to shoot the so called problem animal are given permission if it is deemed necessary. In the case of a hippo they are not allowed to be shot as in this area within the south east Lowveld of Zimbabwe they are endangered. Unless there is absolute proof of a hippo killing a person.

I have carried out a behavior study and as well formed the Turgwe Hippo Trust back in October 1994, after I had personally fed the very last Turgwe Hippos during a horrendous drought in 1991/92 which saw the demise of thousands of wild animals.  My feeding program, which was supposed to be for the last 15 hippos managed to get going on the ground and I fed 13 once I had all the food and knowledge of how to feed.  I fed them for 10 months at that time.  I also had built a cemented pan with water pumped from underground boreholes some 19 kilometers away as the Turgwe River completely dried up.

My feeding program was so successful (feeding over 1 ton of food per night) that all 13 hippos that I fed survive. Two who moved off before I got the food on the ground died from  starvation, as I found their carcasses far from this area.  Two of the females that I fed conceived during the drought thanks to the good food that I managed to get for them and Tembia was born from Lace and Bob on June 16th 1993.  Surprise was born in November 1993 just after the drought with her mother Abe and father Bob having survived, thanks to my feeding program.


In October 1994 I had the THT gazetted officially and we became a not for profit for the benefit of these Turgwe Hippos for them to have a secure future.  We are the only hippo charity in Zimbabwe. The Trust’s aim is to continue to protect them against natural and man-made problems, be it severe droughts, water shortages, building back up pans to pump into, protecting them against sport hunting and poaching, basically being there every single day from the beginning to now to keep them alive, monitoring their natural behavior and for them to breed.  Many things have been achieved since those early days and all of them are thanks to Tembia’s father Bob, who taught me initially so much about hippos and was my inspiration.  Then it was the turn of Tembia and his many offspring.  From Happy, the other bull who survived that drought, other calves were born and since that day I have had 68 calves born.  The positives have outweighed the negatives.  Hippos saved during an anthrax outbreak when I managed to get all of the Turgwe Hippos vaccinated against anthrax, except for the calves at that time who were too young.  To putting myself and my husband’s life in danger for over 7 years during the land invasions, when parts of the Save Valley Conservancy were taken over by people who came first and foremost to kill he wildlife.  We were collecting during those years up to 1000 snares a year and had our lives threatened on several occasions.

I have fed the Turgwe hippos on five occasions including 1992, twice for over a period of one year.  I personally fed them every time alongside up to 250 other wild animals.  This has all been thanks to our hippo supporters.  People who either adopt a hippo, donate towards what we do here, answer appeals for help when needed and purchase goods that we sell.  As well as attend any public speaking that I do when in the UK.

Tembia is so very much a part of all of this, being so special as he was the first born after the very first severe drought, in addition to being the son of Bob.   Tembia has never been aggressive or in any way unpleasant to a human being.  A bull that fathered 18 calves that I am certain of.  A bull who, like his father, knew me so well, and would come close to me when I talked to him at the river.  Well, he now has disappeared.

I received another report which has not yet been substantiated, that two more hippos were wounded on the same day, December 23rd , when the young female was shot and killed.  Bryce’s men did hear 7 shots on that morning and there were 3 hippos in the Turgwe River in that pool before the young female was shot.  Supposedly we heard that the carcasses of the other two hippos were found later, though we have no evidence of that.  What I do know is that since that date I have been regularly monitoring the Majekwe hippos to see which of them were missing. This became very difficult as there was never the full complement of 15 hippos present at one time.  One or two would be missing and then a bit later one of those two would be back, and two more would be gone.  One things that was evident was that Tembia, my beautiful bull who was in the prime of his life, did not come back.

We searched for months the river in that area using the Trust’s Rangers and with Jean-Roger regularly walking up to 24 kilometers in a morning to see if they could locate Tembia or any other hippo that was not around.  Nobody was found.  I knew I had two females that had moved away from the Majekwe weir pool in the Turgwe where Tembia and his family reside, as they had gone looking for a new male. Tembia is their father and I have never seen a bull mate his own daughters. Eventually all the missing females returned to Majekwe but not Tembia.

I now sadly believe that he must be one of the two reported as wounded on that fateful day and dying of his wounds, with another dying as well, possibly one of the females who left before.  The thing is I still have females from Tembia’s pool moving off and returning, which made me retain a tiny sliver of hope that Tembia is alive and they are going off to be with him and then returning to the Majekwe pool. It is a very large area of water and very suitable for hippos.

Then on 28th June I found my bull Kuchek (Steve’s father) up at the Majekwe weir pool with Tembia’s females and offspring. This tells me that my boy Tembia is dead.  Having had bulls killed naturally in the past by other hippos, not man, other bulls always know without me knowing how they know, and will fill the vacuum left by a territorial bull having departed from his area.

If Tembia is alive he will return very soon and have a fight with Kuchek and Kuchy being younger will probably back down and return to our area and his pools near our house.  He has left four hippos, two females and his sons here, but sooner or later they will follow him up to Majekwe and join him there.  Or another bull just might appear in our area but that is not as likely as the nearest bull of the right age is over 25 kilometers downstream and he has his own established family of 4 hippos and a pool that is permanent even in the dry.

Steve, who is Kuchek’s son, and as you all know a very important hippo to me in so many ways, has not been home for over 4 months. He has been keeping away from Kuchek his father, who would try to hurt him as he would see Steve as future competition.

If Kuchek remains at the Majekwe weir pool then it is possible that Steve could return to the pools near our home and live here without any problems, as Kuchek will not come back to this area once he is settled at Majekwe.  Steve is far too young to be a territorial bull, he turns six in September and the earliest I have seen a young male aware of being a bull was nine years of age but he could not take on a family.  The youngest bull that did take on a family was Kuchek when he was 13 years old and he had mated Relief, Steve’s mother when he was 12, and she then had her first calf Darrow.


So the dynamics of the Turgwe Hippos are in turmoil at present.  Kuchek could end up harassing some of the females who have male calves at Majekwe.  If he does the females will probably try and move away, or he will manage to mate them and they will chase their own sons away.  This is normal hippo behavior.

I am very shattered by these events as all of it is illegal.  The perpetrators are people who stole the property in that area where the three hippos were, back in the early 2000s during the land invasions.  They are well connected with the government and much of the wildlife on that property has been obliterated.  Even rhinos have been found buried with horns missing on that property.  This illegal shooting of the hippos was done for money not for any form of conservation.  It was investigated but this has hit a stalemate situation.  The frustration that I feel knows no limit but I have to somehow concentrate on the living.


I am deeply worried that other hippos from Majekwe will continue to go to that pool where three hippos have been killed. I cannot stop them as they are all wild and free.  The people that have taken that area are known to be extremely aggressive and unfriendly to anyone who tries to talk with them about what is happening there.

I have to tell myself that Tembia had just under 30 years of a good life, being a father to many and spreading his genes, passed to him from the wonderful and amazing Bob hippo.  I have to tell myself that what I do here has a purpose, but to have 3 hippos basically murdered in one short period of time is the worst event since I began protecting these Turgwe Hippos with my heart, soul, mind and body.  I am so sorry to all the supporters who have adopted Tembia over the years or even recently.  I wish I could tell you something more uplifting but I think that now Kuchek has moved there, it is 99% certain that Tembia, my beautiful bull, is dead.

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  1. Lona Goudswaard

    Dear Karen and Jean-Roger,

    I’m so sorry to hear about Tembia’s death at the hands of humans. I remember you’ve mourned a bull before, but then he had been killed by a younger one in a fight for dominance. That was hard enough, but this senseless, illegal killing makes Tembia’s death that much harder to accept.

    Please don’t get discouraged, all of you dear people at Turgwe Hippo Trust. Keep up the good work.

    • karen paolillo

      Thank you Lona yes it is extremely difficult to remain positive but so many kind people have told us that we are making a difference. It is just the pain of not being able to avenge his death. Only sick people kill a defenceless animal who was just going about his life. His spirit will live on in his offspring but it does not stop the sadness of him not being here. The other two remain nameless but I know they were originally from his family just not sure who they were. My heart aches for all three of them.

  2. Andrea

    How terrible

  3. Loretta Lehman

    My heart goes out to you.

  4. Laura Phillips

    I felt your pain in those words that must have been so hard to type. I am so sorry for you and Jean-Roger, not to mention everyone who fights for the animals in your area. You are amazing and cannot give up! The hippos and surrounding wildlife need you to keep fighting. I will keep supporting your efforts from Texas, U.S.A. May you both gain comfort knowing supporters all over the world believe in you and your cause. God Bless Always!

  5. Gene Holcomb

    So sad! Bless you for your commitment to the Hippos!

  6. Christine Stewart

    There are no words to adequately express my sorrow for the terribly unjust loss of Tembia, other than I offer my deepest condolences for you all.


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