Flying a four month old to her new home on the banks of the South Luangwa River in Zambia, was one of the best things one passenger aircraft did in a long time. That is because the very special passenger was Douglina, an orphaned baby hippopotamus!
Baby Douglina, who weighs nearly 20 stone, was flown to her new home at Chipembele Wildlife Education Centre in Zambia when road travel was thought to be too stressful for her. The baby hippo was found alone by conservationists without any other adult hippo or her mother in sight.
At her new home, Douglina is under the able care of former Thames Valley police officers, Anna and Steve Tolan. The husband and wife, originally from Oxford came to Africa 12 years ago and founded the Chipembele Wildlife Education Trust.
Officers of the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) had earlier rescued Douglina but sadly she could not stay with them at the facility, and it was decided to send her to live with Anna and Steve.
Douglina was actually initially thought to be a male when her rescuers found her initially all alone in the forest. At that time she was named Douglas.
Ian Stevenson of Conservation Lower Zambezi, which was responsible for the rescue mission, said: ‘Perhaps her mum died or maybe she chased Douglina away for some reason. It’s possible she tried to integrate her back into the pod and the other hippos rejected her. There wasn’t even a pod nearby where we picked her up and we observed her for five hours before intervening.’
ZAWA (Zambia Wildlife Authority) thought that the best place to keep her safe and raise her to adulthood was Chipembele but the long road journey could be too stressful for the baby animal.
It was therefore Proflight Zambia that lifted Douglina and safely carried her to her new home after a one hour long air journey. The special passenger was even awarded an airline loyalty card.
Their mission was a unique one Anna said,
“Flying a baby hippo around is very unusual and rearing a baby hippo is very unusual. I know of only a handful in Southern Africa but as far as I am aware none of them were flown anywhere after the rescue. It’s not something we would want to encourage but there are very few people who have the interest, time or resources to raise a hippo.”
Her other concern was the fact that it was a male hippo, as everyone thought initially.
“When we first heard about Douglas we were concerned because we thought as a male he might be difficult to rehabilitate to the local wild pod of hippos in the river near our house, the males are fiercely territorial but we wanted to give him a chance.”
“Now we know Douglina is a she, when she is grown she will be gradually introduced to this wild pod and being female her chances of being accepted are very good.”
At Chipembele Douglina is enjoying her new life. She drinks two litres of milk every three hours and is responding to her human moms who feed her, look after her and touch her constantly the way her hippo mom would have done.
“She follows her carers close behind just as she would her mum. Totally dependent, she will be weaned at 14 months to two years depending on her needs.From there it could be another year or so before she is ready for her wild life with the local pod. The only daunting bit is that this is a hugely expensive exercise but we had to give her a second chance at life,” said Anna.
‘It is our privilege to help her to adulthood and a wild life.’
Surely, Douglina will grow to become one of the most adorable and pampered hippos at the centre.