Tue, 25 Feb 2014 11:45:00 GMT | By Sapa

Hippo Wows The World

Weighing in at a modest 1400kg, Jessica the hippopotamus considers herself a human, with dogs as her best friends.


Jessica the Hippo (© Gallo Images)

A movie star with her own fan club and web page, she loves Rooibos tea and has several suitors.

The hippo was a mere 16kg when she was found a few hours old on the banks of the Blyde River, near Hoedspruit, with her umbilical cord still attached. Frail and weak, she could not stand up.

And now at 13 years and 11 months she has become one of the country's most renowned tame animals.

"I see her as a dear friend, but more like a child," game ranger and human daddy Tonie Joubert told Sapa on Tuesday.

"When she enters the house, she first walks into the kitchen and puts her head on the counter. There she eats two loaves of bread and five kilograms of carrots."

Then she lies by the television and listens to classical music.

"She loves her Rooibos tea sweet and warm. She has 20 litres a day," he said.

"At bedtime we call her outside, give her bedtime tea and then she falls asleep."

Jessica sleeps on a mattress on the veranda with her best mates, five English bull terriers.

Joubert enjoys several leisure activities with Jessica, including swimming in the crocodile-infested river.

"She keeps crocodiles away from us. She protects us. She even killed one crocodile."

Jessica grazes on grass but when tourists come she receives well-prepared sweet potatoes cut into slices.

Tourists are allowed to feed her when she jumps on top of a raft on the river.

Jessica particularly loves it when women tourists give her a kiss on the nose.

In April 2001, Jessica became a movie star at the age of one-and-a-half. At last count, 97 documentaries had been done on her around the world.

"The most documentaries done on a single animal," said the proud dad.

These included playing a role in the South African movie Mr Bones, documentaries for Animal Planet, National Geographic, and the Discovery Channel. She even got to feature on the Oprah Winfrey show.

Jessica turns 14 on March 11 and the Jouberts are planning to surprise her with a big chocolate cake.

Joubert said she would continue to grow until the age of 20.

The family, who have never been hit by crime, have the most reliable wildlife security system in place.

"We don't have an alarm system or anything. I leave the car unlocked with the keys still in at night," said Joubert.

While Jessica lies on the veranda at night, eight or nine other hippos walk around the house.

"She hasn't got a fixed boyfriend but many males come here, especially in the last three months. I think she is going to fall pregnant soon."

On January 27, 2012, Jessica became a big sister when Joubert found a second baby hippo and named him Richie.

"But I call him seun [Afrikaans for boy]."

Richie is currently a two-year-old male weighing 280kg, is house-trained, and sleeps indoors.

"He is exactly like Jessica. He sleeps in the lounge watching Afrikaans music on kykNET. He potty-trained himself. He drinks tea. He stays inside the house during the night, because the other male hippos can kill him. In the morning, he goes outside," he explained.

"We are the only people on earth living with two hippos."

Hippos are social animals that like to stay close to their mothers for the first four years of their lives, and so that's what Jessica did as a youngster.

"Jessica followed us very persistently, she woke us when she was hungry and we fed her from a tiny bottle." said Tonie's wife Shirley Joubert on Jessica's website.

She said Jessica always loved relaxing with the dogs.

"She created an abundance of happiness... and received warmth and affection from all of them [the dogs]," said Shirley.

Despite having phenomenal strength in her jaw Jessica never showed signs of aggression.

"Jessica is so gentle, she is a tremendous boost for our physical and mental well-being. She is genuinely kind."

According to Wikipedia, hippos are recognisable by their barrel-shaped torsos, enormous mouths and teeth, nearly hairless bodies, stubby legs, and tremendous size. And despite its stocky shape and short legs, it can easily outrun a human.

"Hippos have been clocked at 30km/h over short distances," it says.

The hippopotamus is one of the most aggressive creatures in the world and ranks among the most dangerous animals in Africa.

But Shirley maintains that Jessica is a timid animal that still engages with other wild hippos in the river but always returns home for her treats.

"Jessica hates being left on her own, when we go somewhere for a weekend. On our return, we observe that she is terribly hungry and had obviously not eaten since the last time we saw her.

"After we give her a meal, and lots of love, she would fall sound asleep."

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