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How Huberta the wandering Hippo ambled into the Heart of a Nation

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

No one would ever know just what strange impulse made Huberta the Hippo suddenly leave her muddy lagoon in Zululand and begin her great trek southwards.


But the journey she began that day in November 1928 was the start of one of the most delightfully dotty animal adventures of all time. For the next three years Huberta would amble 1600 kilometers through South Africa.

Her story appeared in South African news papers the next day and this is when Huberta first got her name. In fact, the newspapers got it wrong: they called her Herbert, because at that time no one realized Huberta was a lady.

Huberta crossed railways and roads, trampled over golf courses, munched her way through fields and gardens, popped up in cities and towns. At every twist and turns she attracted an ever-growing following of press, photographers, big game hunters and the interest of thousands of ordinary people

Meanwhile Huberta took refuge in a pool close to the railway. Bus operators began offering trips to see her. Passing trains slowed down, the drivers giving Huberta a whistle and passengers throwing fruit. Huberta seemed to wandered into the good life and she began to grow fat.

Johannesburg Zoo launched an expedition, accompanied by a newsreel camera crew, was mounted to catch her. She made a run for it, barging southwards from one river to the next, with the zoo men, camera crew and press corps in hot pursuit. Stories came of big game hunters falling into mud holes and camera men being chased up in trees. The public began to love the adventures of the hippo and Huberta became a national heroine.

A few days later, hippo tracks were seen on a new housing estate. Rumer spread that Huberta was looking for a house but was unable to found one with a large enough bathroom.

The Zulus were convinced she had some connection with their great chief, Shaka, because she spent so much time in sacred Zulu pools.

But while South Africa was still applauding her sheer audacity, Huberta's luck finally ran out. Late April 1931, three hunters shot her as she was having a dip in the KeiskammaRiver. She ended her marathon drifting lifeless downstream. There was a national outcry and her killers were tracked down. The pleaded ignorance about the animal and were fined R25 for destroying royal game.

Experts from the KaffrarianMuseum, King William's Town, recovered Huberta from the River. The body of the hippo that walked into the hearts of countless South Africans today occupies pride of place in the museum.



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