I was reminded of this special photo today as it popped into my inbox.  I didn’t actually know the origin of the photo until I read the newsletter (thanks to The Safari Book).  Here is a quick summary of where it came from:

The Hatted Hippo

This fabulous image has been around since 1979 and was taken by Paul Dutton.  Shot with a pre-digital 35mm Pentax camera, the hippo in question, tried on a good 35 “hats” before finding the perfect fit.  With almost the entire film dedicated to this particular hippo, it was a once-off photo shoot with famous results for Paul!

It was taken while carrying out field work in the Urema Floodplain in the Gorgongosa National Park.  The floral hat in question is an invasive aquatic weed called “water hyacinth”, first introduced into Africa’s wetland system from South America.   Although a serious pest for impeding water flow and causing excessive oxygen up-take to the detriment of fauna and fish, it was fantastic fodder for the hippo, who has the capacity to consume 50kgs of herbage a day!

The image has appeared on the cover of the Wildlife Society of South Africa magazine, as well as being printed into large posters and used to advertise conservation areas in Southern Africa.  The original slide came back from the printers damaged, and only the digital era has managed to “repair” the damage and return the image to its original format.

The civil war that plagued Mozambique destroyed the population of hippos in the Gorongosa National Park.  The numbers declined from around 6,000 before the war to a staggering less than 20 in 1994.  The ivory and meat supplied by these huge animals helped sustain the war.  With the Carr Foundation now involved in Gorongosa National Park, massive rehabilitation efforts are returning the animal populations back to their original numbers!