BY SHERRY REISCH
Probably like you, I had never won a raffle before, but winning a trip to the Turgwe River Hippo Trust in Zimbabwe, Hippo Haven, was a dream come true. I heard about the Turgwe hippos and the English lady who founded it, Karen Paolillo, through a friend and fellow animal activist/advocate. I had donated funds for a food drive needed to feed the hippos during a drought. Coincidentally, other free wild animals were saved as well. Karen truly saved many lives that year. As a result of my donation, I became eligible to enter her raffle for a free ten-evening stay at the Trust.
On the drive out to Hippo Haven, I saw kopis that are magnificent African mountains made from what looks like stone sculptures. The bush appearance varies depending on where you are and, maybe, what animals inhabit that area. I saw wild painted dogs on this part of the trip, not quite at the conservatory yet. They are breathtakingly beautiful. And no, they did not bark at us in the truck. I also saw giraffe. How magnificent and sweet and gentle they are. Wildebeest, kudu, impala, a giant kingfisher bird and a hammercrop bird all crossed my path that first exciting day.
The next morning we hiked down to the Turgwe River, where I met five hippos: Surprise (“adopted” by my friend), Kuchek the bull, George (baby), his mom, Tacha, and Bonbon. I “adopted” Kuchek and Tacha! Seeing the hippos in the Turgwe River was life affirming. To see them in person was to see and hear their souls. And their souls are pure. They make sounds that sound like laughter. They enjoy the water, and also need it to stay hydrated and cool. To see them is also to see how big they are! It is fantastic to see them with their gaping mouths!
Each morning was a walking safari and each afternoon was a jeep safari. Karen is very wise and knowledgeable in tracking and in all things animal. She was the first-ever female guide in Zimbabwe!
Squiggles the mongoose with Torti the cat
I met their resident mongoose, Squiggles, who is now four years old. Squiggles was found alone as a newborn and was rescued by Karen and Jean Roger, her husband. I got to know the neighboring baboons and vervet monkeys, whom I also got to feed! At night I would watch as a genet named Jenny would come by for her late-night dinner provided by Karen.
During our afternoon and morning safaris I also saw crocodiles, buffalo, zebra, black eye eagle nest, and many species of birds. It is amazing how the crocodiles and the hippos live peacefully together in the river. On one of our afternoon safaris we came across a family of about twenty elephants. It was mesmerizing to watch them walk slowly and deliberately and eat. We watched intently as one elephant was taking a sand bath!
Sherry holding up the Baobab Tree
There is a tree named the elephant palm tree. Baboons eat the outer part of the fruit. The elephants eat the rest. The only way this tree germinates is when the elephant poops out the fruit. Hence, the name!
I also saw the largest baobab tree in Southern Africa. It is twenty five hundred years old. I think this baobab tree is the one used in the Harry Potter series.
Sadly, there are hunting areas in this conservancy. No hunting is allowed on the Turgwe River Trust land. Karen explained to me that the government sets quotas on how many of each species of animal may be killed. Then each hunting area must communicate with one another to ensure compliance with the quotas.
Elephants in the mist
Jenny the Genet
Also, there is unfortunately a problem of poaching. Turgwe River Trust and other groups search for illegal snares and poachers, and hire game scouts. It is a sad reality in the bush.
Safari Club International is the largest group of hunters and they meet each year on the west coast of the US. Americans make up the largest group of trophy hunters! We hope changes will be made in the future.
Seeing animals living freely and going about their daily lives, gave me hope of a better world for all of them.
To visit the Turgwe Hippo Trust, Hippo Haven, you can make your donation today to adopt a hippo and watch for the raffle that usually takes place in November of each year. Or, just make a reservation! It is truly a magical and life affirming experience.
Sherry Reisch is the lucky and proud companion and guardian of Elly, a Shepherd-Doberman mix.