Two-week old Douglas was in bad shape when he arrived at the Chipembele Wildlife Education Centre in Mfuwe, Zambia. More than a year later, thanks to his two canine companions, he’s ready to go back to the wild.
Rescuers found the abandoned baby hippo near the Zambezi River in May 2013. He was then helicoptered to the center, where he was nursed back to health.
“We constructed a pool and brought in dedicated carers to look after Douglas, who initially was bottle-fed,” said Chipembele Wildlife Education Trust cofounder Steve Tolan. “[He] looked to his human carers for reassurance and companionship and even swimming lessons, but we urgently needed financial support.”
Paul O’Grady’s Animal Orphans, a British documentary series, featured Douglas’ recovery last January. He was shown playing with two Jack Russell terriers, Molly and Coco. The exposure won Douglas many supporters, and with the help of the Born Free Foundation, a U.K.-based wildlife advocacy group, the center received more than $16,000 for the hippo’s rehabilitation.
According to the trust, the hippo was weaned in January and started fending for himself.
“He has made his first few attempts to join the wild pod in the Luangwa River,” said Tolan. “It will probably be a long, slow process until he is fully accepted into the pod, but he is on his way.”
While hippos roam free in Zambia—about 48 of them wallow per half mile in the Luangwa River—poachers target other animals, such as elephants. Wildlife rescue organizations such as the CWET have been working to protect the country’s beasts. In Luangwa Valley, the Wildlife Conservation Society trains former poachers in alternative ways to make a living, such as farming and beekeeping.