The land of Jaffa oranges and Hass avocados has a new export success. Israel emerged this week as the world’s leading supplier of hippopotami.
An Israeli zoo, the Ramat Gan Safari, has shipped 14 of the massive mammals to zoos around the world in recent months. The animals have been sent to new homes in Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam.
Catching a hippo can be tricky, because if they are hit by a tranquilliser dart when awake they tend to rush to their pond, and are then impossible to shift. The zookeepers have to stun them when they are already asleep and lift them into a crate with a bulldozer.
“There is no profit in this, but without a doubt we are a unique zoo because most zoos have only a small number of hippos,” said Sagit Horovitz, spokeswoman for Ramat Gan zoo.
The export programme was the zoo’s second solution to its hippo population crisis. With numbers topping 40, the largest herd in captivity, zoo bosses were concerned that the animals would become aggressive and decided to castrate the males — a difficult task because hippo testicles are inside the body.
Four males were successfully gelded, but then, in May, came the sad death of Lieber, who died during the operation, despite the efforts of a German vet who attempted to resuscitate him by jumping up and down on his 1.5 ton body.