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Owen and Mzee

Owen and MzeeTales of unlikely animal friendships are inspiring and beautiful. Heavy monsoon rains caused flooding in the Sabaki River in December of 2004 off the coast of Kenya. The rising water on the Kenyan coast, in turn, caused a family of hippos living near the river mouth to move and the massive mammals were washed out to sea. The adults managed to swim back to their home territory, but a small calf (less than a year old) was left behind in the open ocean.

For days, the calf kept his head above water as local fisherman and tourists looked on. At first no one dared approach because even as a calf, the hippo weighed over 270 kilos. He was eventually rescued by Kenya Wildlife Service rangers, who wrapped him in a fishing net and put him in a truck to be taken to Haller Wildlife Park just outside Mombasa. The hippo, christened Owen, named after his rescuer, was let loose in an enclosure with two giant tortoises and some bushbucks. In a remarkable turn of events, Mzee, one of the giant tortoises, later adopted him.

Mzee, which means old man, was 120 years old at the time. The friendship did not happen instantly. At first, the giant tortoise hissed aggressively at the frightened baby hippo. But after a few days the tortoise was eating and sleeping with the hippo and acting like the calf’s mother, even though Mzee is a male tortoise. Owen, in turn, treated the old tortoise like a parent, licking his face and following him everywhere.

Owen is now an adult at 9 years old and shares his enclosure with a female hippo. His surrogate caretaker Mzee lives nearby. These remarkable creatures are just one reason to visit Haller Park on your Mombasa holiday. There are many walking trails, making this a pleasant place to spend a morning or afternoon away from the beaches. The forest trails are not only excellent for nature watching, but also for leisure and fitness. There are cycling as well as jogging trails and a 1.7 kilometer trail. An open playground caters to children, and there’s even an attendant to supervise them while you explore the park.