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Happy Hippos!

The happy face of these smiling hippos belie the fact that they are among the most dangerous animals in Africa.  Despite their fearsome reputation, they have long been popular with humans. The first hippo at London zoo even seems to be smiling in this 1852 photo. There’s a Hippo Collective for fans of these fascinating beasts and there’s even a quirky documentary film entitled The Pursuit of Hippo-ness in which culture and conservation collide. 

Hippos were a real hazard to river boats on the Nile and in ancient Egypt it was believed that the beast might be encountered in the journey to the afterlife. Symbolic ceramic models were placed in tombs and the legs were usually broken off to prevent the hippo from harming the deceased. Some surviving examples of hippo tomb sculptures are lovingly painted with aquatic plants, signifying the river marshes where the animal lived. Perhaps the most famous hippo tomb sculpture is William at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Inspired by William and the locally carved wooden hippos sold by the roadside in Africa, Ardmore sculptor Alex Sibanda has modeled this monumental hippo rider, which has been exquisitely painted with aquatic plants by Mandla Ngwenya.

Back to Highlights - February 2017

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