Meet Jessica the Hippo – one of the world’s most famous animal stars.


By Staff Writer

HOEDSPRUIT- It is well believed that Hippos are some of the most dangerous and fearsome creatures in Africa and there are many accounts of Hippos attacking (and killing) people who invade their space or disrupt their routines.

With Jesicca the Hippo, this is definitely not the case since she loves interaction with humans and displays mind-boggling characteristics which makes everyone wonder about our approach towards wild animals.

Due to her behavior, Jessica has become somewhat of a worldwide phenomenon and she has her own international fan-club.

She’s played the lead in several National Geographic documentaries, appeared on the Discovery Channel, SKY news, BBC, Japanese, German and Australian telly and even made it onto the Oprah Winfrey Show.

When considering the natural behavior of the species, it is hard to establish whether Jessica considers herself as human or us humans as fellow hippos? As a results, thousands of tourists flock to the 6 ha reserve in Hoedspruit situated along the Blyde, River to catch a glimpse of Jessica.

The remarkable story of Jessica is associated with the devastating floods that occurred in the year 2000 in Mozambique and South Africa and the image that one remembers is the miracle rescue of the mother who gave birth to her baby daughter in a tree in Mozambique.

While that human drama was unfolding, another mother in a river further south lost her daughter too, as the floods swept her downstream.

Honorary game ranger, Tonie Joubert and his wife, Shirley, heard a crunching sound where the lawn meets the water, in front of their house. Shirley’s eye fortunately caught a movement:

“We stood on the banks of the river, at first it looked like a picture coming into focus, then I suddenly observed that the scene I was gazing on was very different to what I had anticipated – a small hippo calf. Tonie and myself walked down to the calf, the hippo calf tried to get up, but was terribly tired and to weak. The calf had no energy.

Realizing that she needed help, Tonie picked her up and observed that she was only a few hours old, she still had the umbilical cord attached to her. It must have had a disastrous effect on her nerves, for she was much traumatised.

The calf needed milk urgently, being so small, we could not feed her normal milk, but fortunately, with Tonie’s experience and knowledge as a game ranger, he had a formula to create a substitute similar to colestrum. With cool determination, for a few minutes we prepared the formula which consisted of egg yolk, cream and full cream cow’s milk. Tonie had used this formula many times in the past with wonderful success.

We decided to call her Jessica and then carefully weighed and measured her. At 16 kg’s and 30 cm tall at the shoulder, it certainly was the smallest hippo we had ever seen. She was undamaged and intact. Over a 24 hour period she had to consume 10% of her body mass in milk (1.6 liters). Being badly emancipated and weak she took to the teat of the bottle greedily, and much to our surprise, found out how delicious the milk formula was, and she could hardly get enough of it.

Jessica followed us very persistently, she woke us when she was hungry and we fed her from a tiny bottle. Which pleased me even more was that Jessica soon became friends with the dogs, Za Za the Rottweiler and the Bull Terriers, they were always together, and watched anything unusual with great concentration.

While hippos are known to be aggressive, Jessica is so gentle and kind.

Jessica never fell ill, and grew in leaps and bounds. She grew from strength to strength. She created an abundance of happiness by attracting her friends, the dogs, and received warmth and affection for all of them. She established a strong bond with the dogs. Hippos are social animals that like to stay close to their mothers for four years. Jessica’s chances of survival in the wild were very slim, and we realised that we were now her parents. It was, therefore far more merciful to finish the affair that we started, than to just let it be, much to our pleasure and relief.”

Jessica is so gentle; she is a tremendous boost for our physical and mental wellbeing. She is genuinely kind. Although she has phenomenal strength in her jaw, she has never shown any signs of aggression. Jessica is the most wonderful precious thing, she is so unique and special, and needs to be appreciated.

In April 2001, Jessica became a movie star, at the age of 1 1/2, she was already world famous, when she played a role in a South African movie “Mr. Bones” with actor Leon Schuster. Jessica is a born actress, since the movie Jessica was broadcast all over the world.

With more than 100 films to her name, she must be one of the most documented animals on the planet. She also starred in Leon Schuster’s blockbuster movie, Mr Bones. She has her own fan page and celebrities from all over come to meet her.

Tonie says tourists enjoy feeding her on top of a raft on the river or by the jetty. “We give them each a warm bottle of Rooibos and well-prepared sweet potatoes cut into slices, which she simply can’t resist.

“She is a dear friend and is very protective over us. While hippos are known to be aggressive, Jessica is so gentle and kind.

“In 2012, we adopted another hippo, called Richie, who is exactly like Jessica. They both love Rooibos, watching television and listening to music with us. We must be the only people on earth living with hippos,” chuckles Tonie.

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