by Pepper Ballard
When a pygmy hippopotamus was rescued from the dry back yard of a California doctor, staffers at The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center were told the rare animal likely wouldn’t survive.
Hannah P. Motamus was found with adequate food and drinking water, but without the habitat—namely shade and a deep swimming pool—needed to sustain the water creature. Rejecting veterinarians’ claims she would have to be euthanized due to the severity of her dry, cracked skin, caregivers at the Ramona, Calif. rehabilitation facility fought for her life, rejuvenating her skin to a supple gray and building a mud pond in which she could finally bask.
Water, Water Everywhere
The relatively shallow pond, however, was only temporary, for staffers knew Hannah would be happiest submerged underwater. And on Tuesday, after several hot hours spent corralling the stubborn hippo into her brand new, 13,000-square foot enclosure—complete with a mud pond, shade trees and a 25-foot long, 3 ½-foot deep pool—Hannah showed everyone just how happy a hippo can get.
“She stepped in and immediately went down, deeper and deeper, and then—for the first time in her life—she disappeared underwater,” said Chuck Traisi, center manager. As a crowd of caregivers looked on, Hannah continued her disappearing act, wading from the shallow end to the deepest spot and then floating back up again.
“She put on a show. She kept rolling with her pink belly visible like a water ballerina. All of us swore she had a smile on her face,” Traisi said, adding that everyone around her had tears of joy rolling down theirs.
Hippos Don't Belong in Backyards
Pygmy hippos are rare creatures—and are even more rarely kept as pets. But Hannah’s case exemplifies the problems inherent in the exotic pet trade: People keeping wild animals as pets with little to no knowledge about their care needs, or about their temperament.
The property from which Hannah was confiscated had an extremely small enclosure, no shade whatsoever and no pond or any other water source within which she could even place one foot, Traisi said.
“Animals like this shouldn’t be private individuals’ pets. Their care is too demanding and they can be dangerous,” said Richard Farinato, senior director of animal care centers for The Humane Society of the United States, which operates the wildlife center in partnership with The Fund for Animals.
A loner by nature, the nocturnal pygmy hippo spends a majority of their time in water, which is where they do most of their sleeping and breeding, Farinato said. At night, the hippos graze and feed. Her new enclosure is as close to home as she can get: Since Hannah was raised in captivity she cannot be released back to the wild and must remain in sanctuary.
And sanctuary is exactly what Hannah has now.
In Her Element At Last
At dusk on Wednesday, Traisi said he looked over at Hannah’s enclosure and didn’t see her, which was odd since she normally begins feeding at that time. Concerned, Traisi walked into her new home, and looked for her under the shade of her new favorite tree, where she had been seen napping earlier. He planned to wake her up, and let her know her dinner had been served, but Hannah wasn’t there.
“I knew she wasn’t in the pool because there were no ripples,” he said. “And then suddenly, from the middle of the pool, her big gray head emerged and was looking at me. As I watched, she rested her head on the edge of the pool and just stared at me. It was so clear that she was so thoroughly enjoying herself.”
Traisi said he is thankful for the donors who fund projects to build and enhance animal habitats like Hannah’s new home, one of the many ongoing renovations supported by donors.
“From whatever source this money came--whoever was responsible for generating it--I thank them on behalf of a very lovely hippopotamus.”