In November last year, the staff from the City’s False Bay Nature Reserve spotted a dispersing hippo in Rondevlei, in all probability pushed out of the main herd at the Rondevlei section of the reserve.
Staff facilitated the moving of the animal to a pan at the Strandfontein Cape Flats Waste Water Treatment works and erected an electric fence to contain it. The fence, 3 km in extent, had to be erected in a day.
Upon initial inspection of the hippopotamus, the City’s biodiversity management staff at the reserve found that the animal did not appear well, nor did it respond to close human presence.
The team arranged for a veterinarian to assess its condition after which it was decided that the Biodiversity Management team would monitor the hippopotamus on a daily basis with as little disturbance as possible to see if its condition improved.
Hippos usually feed during their evening grazing periods and can go without food for a number of days, up to three weeks or even longer. Therefore, the team was encouraged to see it feeding and showing good signs of recovery after two weeks of monitoring. A capture plan was in place since December 2019, but was delayed to allow sufficient time for the hippopotamus to first fully recover its health.
A timber boma was constructed allowing the animal to walk in of its own accord and to be trapped after tripping infrared beams which activate the closure of the door. Construction of the boma started mid-February this year and was operational at the beginning of March.
‘I am proud of how the reserve staff responded to the situation and the innovative approach they used to ensure that the hippo was captured passively and relocated successfully. The passion displayed by our biodiversity staff members is truly inspiring, and is reflected in their approach,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Spatial Planning and Environment, Alderman Marian Nieuwoudt.
Due to the dynamics of the main hippopotamus population, where the dominant male chases away and sometimes kills his offspring to limit breeding competition, it was not advisable for the team to reintroduce the hippo back into its pod. The hippo therefore, needed a new home.
Finding a suitable new home for a hippopotamus can be a challenge as these animals have specific habitat requirements and a site would require adequate fencing due to the dangerous nature of these wild animals.
However, as luck would have it, Bergsig, a game farm in Mossel Bay, had made contact with the False Bay Nature Reserve in September 2018, enquiring about potentially sourcing a hippopotamus to complement the other hippo on site. So, having met all of the necessary requirements, Bergsig was approved as a receptor site. Once captured, the hippo would be on its way to Mossel Bay.
To limit the disturbance of continuously monitoring the boma during the day and in the evenings, a remote monitoring system was developed using technology that would remotely notify the reserve manager and the reserve ranger control room when the hippo boma door closes.
On the night of 22 of June 2020, 111 days since the start of the capture operation, the hippo was finally caught inside the boma where it was found to be in a calm state, occasionally grunting and snorting.
The City’s veterinarian was present to closely monitor the hippo. A truck was then brought to site and positioned at the end of the loading ramp and the inter-leading door between the boma and truck opened. It made its way up the ramp and walked straight into the truck.
After months of preparation and anticipation of this capture, the loading took all of two minutes to complete. The truck left close to midnight and arrived in Mossel Bay on the morning of Tuesday 22 June 2020.
It is extremely difficult to tell the sexes apart, but upon arrival the Bergsig staff believed the animal, named ‘Bambi’, to be female. Two days after the new hippo’s arrival from the False Bay Nature Reserve, it was reported that the resident male, ‘Fatboy’ and ‘Bambi’ were seen together.
Since then, they have been spotted together nearly every day – an unexpected happy ending for all concerned.