When it comes to unlikely pets, hippos have got to be near the top of the list. Weighing up to nearly 10,000 pounds, hippopotamuses are one of the deadliest species in Africa.
Well known to be aggressive and attack humans, the huge water-dwelling animals are responsible for around 500 deaths every year – more than any other mammal on the African continent.
But one hippo seems to break every rule in the book. Meet Jessica, a gentle, human-loving hippo with a story that has touched millions of people’s heart all over the world and even inspired Animal Planet to create a special documentary about this unique creature.
Jessica was found on a river-bank in South Africa as a tiny baby by kind couple Toni and Sherley Joubert. The little calf had been washed away from her mother down the Blyde River which flows through Kruger National Park.
“We stood on the banks of the river, at first it looked like a picture coming into focus, then I suddenly observed that the scene I was gazing on was very different to what I had anticipated – a small hippo calf. Tonie and myself walked down to the calf, the hippo calf tried to get up, but was terribly tired and to weak. The calf had no energy,”said Tonie, who noticed that little Jessica was so young, she still had her mother’s umbilical cord attached to her.
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Gradually nursing the emancipated hippo back to health, bottle feeding her milk, Jessica grew into a fully-mature hippo. She became part of the family, bonding with the dogs and coming and going from the family’s home as she wished.
“She established a strong bond with the dogs. Hippos are social animals that like to stay close to their mothers for four years. Jessica’s chances of survival in the wild were very slim, and we realised that we were now her parents”, said Tonie on the website dedicated to their adopted hippo daughter.
Careful to allow Jessica her freedom and dignity, she is free to leave the family home and hang-out with a group of wild hippos which congregate further down the river, and she even enjoys the occasional date!
“Jessica lives wild with neighbouring wild hippos, they often come and visit her at night and leave early morning. She is quite fearless of them. Jessica has three boyfriends, but her favourite is called Fred”, explain Tonie and Sherley.
But enjoying the best of both worlds, the family-loving hippo always chooses to come back to her adopted human and dog companions.
She eats with the dogs, and even lets herself in to the family home to enjoy a snack from the kitchen! At the end of a long day, she enjoys a snuggle with her humans and likes to go to sleep under her favourite duvet.
While Jessica is a huge animal and quite capable of causing serious injury, Tonie and Sherley say she has always been placid and loving:
“Jessica is so gentle; she is a tremendous boost for our physical and mental wellbeing. She is genuinely kind. Although she has phenomenal strength in her jaw, she has never shown any signs of aggression. Jessica is the most wonderful precious thing, she is so unique and special, and needs to be appreciated.
“She was the greatest gift given to us by God.”