Tanzania: Waiting for Hugo

The hippo's name is Hugo,

He lives in Hippo Bay.

He does not need finances,

He does not smoke or drink,

He only needs his chances,

To stay alive and sing.

—Popular Tanzanian song

It is hardly My Fair Lady. But then again, neither is Hugo. He is a two-ton, five-year-old behemoth who in the course of a busy year has become the scourge of peasant farmers outside Dar es Salaam, the embarrassment of Tanzania's game department, the favorite of Tanzania's children, the object of a crusade by the nation's animal lovers, and the talk of the whole country.

It couldn't have happened to a friendlier hippo. Making his home in the grey-green Kurasini Creek outside Dar es Salaam, Hugo is a happy-go-lucky sort who loves nothing better than romping with dogs on the bank, marching behind a herd of cattle, and frolicking in the creek, creating miniature tidal waves. Water skiers even skim over his partly submerged back without raising as much as a snort. But Hugo has a vice: good food.

Up to a year ago, Hugo was content to munch the wild grasses and reeds along the Kurasini bank. Then one night he began feasting on the sweet potatoes, maize stalks and plump cabbages grown by nearby farmers. Before long, villagers were grabbing up their machetes and spears and shouting for Hugo's hide. With his speed (up to 30 m.p.h.) and sharp sense of smell, Hugo managed to elude his pursuers. Yet it seemed only a matter of time before he would be caught.

Orphans Wanted. Hearing about Hugo's plight, Dar es Salaam's daily Standard launched a save-Hugo campaign, and by last week Hugo had become a national celebrity. Some of his notices were anything but raves. "The hippo, like a member of his family, the wild pig, is vermin of the first degree," one irate reader wrote. "The best treatment for Hugo is a bullet through the head." The majority, however, was siding with Hugo and making Tanzania's favorite hippo the hip thing. Last week Tanzanians were humming the "Hugo song." They shuffled, stamped and snorted to the "Hugo dance." One educator wrote a children's book based on Hugo. And hundreds were contributing to save-Hugo fund drives.

The Dar-based Humane Education al Institute, which once sought rubber booties for footsore Moroccan donkeys, collected $450 to create a Kurasini sanctuary for Hugo and "other animals, preferably orphans." Not to be outdone, the Tanzania S.P.C.A. raised $350 —and the support of President Julius Nyerere—for a plan to ship Hugo to the Mikumi Game Park. Nyerere, who keeps orphaned gazelles, ostriches and peacocks on his private grounds, has even set up plans for a parade through Dar es Salaam once Hugo is caught.

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