Orphaned baby hippo flown by passenger plane to new home

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Orphaned baby hippo flies by passenger plane to new home
Orphaned baby hippo flies by passenger plane to new home

Pigs might not fly, but hippos obviously can.

This orphaned hippopotamus, weighing in at nearly 20 stone, has been flown to safety in a passenger aircraft and has even been awarded an airline loyalty card.

The unusual passenger took to the skies to be transported to her new home at Chipembele Wildlife Education Centre on the banks of the South Luangwa River in Zambia.

The four-month-old baby, called Douglina, is now being cared for by former Thames Valley police officers, Anna and Steve Tolan.

The husband and wife team, originally from Oxford, moved to Africa 12 years ago and are the founders of the trust that will be Douglina's new home.

The orphan was rescued by the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) but sadly couldn't stay at the facility there so was transported to Chipembele.

Orphaned baby hippo flies by passenger plane to new home
Orphaned baby hippo flies by passenger plane to new home

The hippo, who was originally thought to be a boy and named Douglas, had to take the unusual mode of transport, courtesy of Proflight Zambia, as road travel was deemed too stressful and potentially dangerous to the vulnerable animal.

Douglina, who guzzles a whopping two litres of milk every three hours, appeared to enjoy the one-hour flight and was even presented with her own frequent flyer card by her pilot when she landed.

Anna, 55, told Caters News: "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.

"Chipembele was agreed to be the most suitable place by ZAWA (Zambia Wildlife Authority) and the long road journey would have been too stressful for such a young baby so flying was the only option.

"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.

"The carers are substitute mums, they feed her, watch over her, touch her constantly.

"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."

Steve, 61, added: "It is our privilege to help her to adulthood and a wild life."

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."

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