A hippopotamus in Khaudum? “No way. It’s impossible!” I replied when the bar tender at the TUCSIN Tsumkwe Lodge, where I dropped in to slake my thirst in late November last year, told me this seemingly tall tale. “Where in Khaudum?” I asked. “Tsoanafontein”, he replied, “I was there three days ago. Here’s the proof.” When he showed me the photo on his mobile phone there was no doubt in my mind that it was indeed a hippopotamus. But it still seemed completely impossible. A hippopotamus in Khaudum?
Eager to find out more about this most unlikely inhabitant, I headed to the Nyae Nyae Conservancy office to get more information. There I learnt that 11 hippos had crossed into the conservancy from Botswana in 2016 when floodwaters from our eastern neighbour spilled into the area. At Nyae Nyae the hippos made themselves comfortable in the inundated pans, but eventually drifted back into Botswana when the pans began drying up.
One of the hippos, however, decided to make Nyae Nyae his new home and moved from pan to pan as the water receded. On the last leg of his journey the hippo probably walked more than 60 km before settling down in the waterhole of Tsoanafontein in the south-western corner of the park. He had to share the waterhole with elephants and other game – living the life of a loner and an outcast, because he probably was a lone bull.
Unforeseen mechanical problems put paid to my visit to Khaudum and when I got back to Windhoek I immediately set about planning a trip back to the park as soon as possible. But in early December I learnt that the lone hippo was no more. Its demise was caused by elephants that had destroyed the solar installation at the waterhole. With no water to protect him from the blazing sun and little shade nearby where he could take shelter during the heat of the day it was just a matter of days before he succumbed.
The story of the wandering hippo of Nyae Nyae somehow reminded me of one of South Africa’s most famous animals. The incredible story of Huberta the Hippo began in November 1928 when she left the St Lucia Estuary in KwaZulu-Natal. She covered a distance of over 1600 km during the next three years as she wandered down the east coast of South Africa until she was shot by farmers in East London in April 1931.
A fanciful and endearing thought that hippos may roam where few hippos have ever gone before…