South Africa mourns as efforts to save Solly the hippo fail

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- It was supposed to be one be of those feel-good stories that make a nation smile after a couple of weeks of pretty rotten news here in South Africa.

But the oddball tale of a young hippo who got trapped in a swimming pool turned into into a tragedy — broadcast live on television Friday.

The young male hippo, who had become a South African celebrity and even inspired someone to start up a Twitter account in his name, died just as a vet arrived and a crane was brought in to rescue him.

He had been forced out of his pod by dominant male hippos in a game reserve in northern South Africa’s Limpopo province and had wandered into a swimming pool, more than six feet deep, without steps, at a game lodge.


With no way to get out of the pool, the hippo, nicknamed Solly, was trapped.

Plans were drawn up to save Solly, and media gathered around the pool. The idea was to sedate the hippo and winch the one-ton animal out of the pool using a crane, blindfold him, put him on a truck and take him to safety.

It was always going to be a long shot.

Even darting the animal was risky. The Star newspaper reported that Solly had only a one in three chance of surviving the sedation.

But before he could be darted, the swimming pool had to be emptied to prevent him from drowning.

Then the vet who was supposed to tranquilize Solly got waylaid, attending to a pregnant antelope struggling to give birth.

Wildlife rescue experts and supporters tried to pour water on the hippo to keep him hydrated, but the animal became distressed Friday morning, and died before he could be rescued.

The safari lodge manager, Ruby Ferreira, was heartbroken by Solly’s death.

“We’ve been waiting all morning. I’m very heartbroken at the loss of Solly,” Ferreira told a local television news station.

“It started out as a happy story and now it’s a tragic story. It’s devastating,” she told the Associated Press.

Hippos driven from their pods often die because of stress, according to wildlife rescue expert Simon Prinsloo, who was in tears over the hippo’s death, the AP reported.


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-- Robyn Dixon