Saturday, May 03, 2008

Hippopotamus Lives as a Pampered House Pet

May 2nd, 2008

To come upon a hippopotamus in the wild would be sobering and cause for serious alarm, but a South African family has become surrogate parents to a hippo in their house as their pampered pet. Jessica the hippo prefers her home creature comforts to a life in the wild as she wanders around their house, eats at their table, drinks sweet coffee, and even gets a massage before she goes to bed.

House Hippopotamus Jessica 1
Photo Barcroft

Shirley and Tonie Joubert rescued the abandoned hippopotamus from a river bank on their property in Hoedspruit, Limpopo, South Africa after a devastating flood when she was merely hours old, and still had the umbilical cord attached to her in March 2000.

Traumatized and in dire need of her normal milk, the former game ranger created a substitute for the orphaned hippo.

The Jouberts’ hand raised her — not wanting to leave her to dire fate of being eaten by crocodiles or starving to death — fully expecting her to return to the wild as soon as she was old enough. They’ve spent the past 8 years raising Jessica, and the world’s only tame hippo has never left since.

“Hippos tend to stay close to their mothers for many years, so her chances of survival in the wild were slim. We decided that having rescued her we had to follow through and bring her up.” Tonie said. “When she was younger she was just like a human child.”

House Hippopotamus Jessica 2
Photo Barcroft

House Hippopotamus Jessica 6
Photo Barcroft

House Hippopotamus Jessica 23
Photo Telegraph

“I don’t know whether she thinks I’m a hippo or she thinks she’s a human. But we have the most fantastic bond.” When Tonie calls her name, Jessica honks out her own greeting in return.

“I can’t imagine life without her. She’s the child I never had.” said Shirley.

Jessica seems to believe she’s part of the family and regularly forces her way into the house. “We try to keep the door closed, but she pulls down the handle and lets herself in.” Shirley adds.

“She’s already broken a bed and a sofa, and it can be very messy because she’s not house trained.” It’s become a bit of a problem because she’s now broken the Jouberts’ bed 3 times.

House Hippopotamus Jessica 12
Photo Telegraph

House Hippopotamus Jessica 27
Photo Telegraph

House Hippopotamus Jessica 28
Photo Telegraph

“Of course, when she started getting bigger and had broken a couple of beds we had to put a stop to that, so she’d sleep out with the dogs. We never forced her to stay though. The river is right there and she’s always had the option to wander off. Sometimes she disappears for a couple of days, but she must be pretty happy here – she always comes back!” says Tonie.

Jessica’s favorite room is the kitchen, where she rests her huge snout on the counter and flips open her jaws at any hint of food.

Eating is a big part of Jessica’s routine as she consumes a 1/10th of her body weight daily. At only 35 pounds (16 kilos) and 12 inches (30 centimeters) in height when they first found her, Jessica grew in leaps and bounds both in weight and strength, and has the potential to reach up to 6600 to 9900 pounds (3000 to 4500 kilos).

The monster mammal gets sweet potatoes and a bowl of wheat bran for breakfast, her favorite meals of corn on the cob and cabbage, regular snacks of dog biscuits which she shares with the Jouberts’ English bull terriers, drinks up to 20 liters of weak coffee a day which Tonie bottle feeds to her, and is even allowed to eat from the kitchen table.

House Hippopotamus Jessica 21
Photo Telegraph

House Hippopotamus Jessica 22
Photo Telegraph

House Hippopotamus Jessica 8
Photo Go Nomad / Lucy Corne

In between meals Jessica wallows in the river which runs through the Jouberts’ land where she frequently swims.

She is free to leave but chooses to stay. She never leaves the Jouberts’ side, and even watches television with them at night.

Indeed, Jessica does have human traits, and recognizes about a dozen words in Afrikaans. The most important trigger word is bek, meaning ‘mouth’ and if pronounced just right, she approaches the bridge, jaws wide open ready to be fed a tasty treat.

Hippos — the third heaviest land mammals in the world — favor the cool of water holes in the day but venture out to eat grass and fallen fruit at night.

But Jessica seems to prefer the shade of a detached villa and pulls her considerable weight by trimming the lawn outside with her prominent teeth.

House Hippopotamus Jessica 9
Photo Telegraph

House Hippopotamus Jessica 10
Photo Telegraph

House Hippopotamus Jessica 11
Photo Telegraph

And when Jessica fancies a swim in the river, Shirley accompanies her down to the bank and swims on Jessica’s back, arms around her neck.

Jessica’s best friends are the Jouberts’ dogs, Za Za the Rodweiller and the Bull terriers who fight for a share of the biscuits.

Tonie says, “Jessica loves the dogs. She plays in the garden with them, and they keep the birds from bothering her. Every time one flies near her, the dogs snap it away with their jaws.”

House Hippopotamus Jessica 13
Photo Telegraph

House Hippopotamus Jessica 15
Photo Telegraph

House Hippopotamus Jessica 16
Photo Telegraph

If she’s swimming in the river and Tonie calls her, she heaves herself up the bank and follows him.

Being a big girl now, giant male hippos have turned up on the river’s edge fronting Jessica’s human home. “They come down here like kids coming to call for her and she’ll go off and swim with them for a while. She’s really so human sometimes it’s unreal!” says Tonie.

She became friendly with one of them, a 10-year-old bull they named Charlie who lived with them for 18 months. But when he was shot by a neighboring farmer, it killed off their hopes of finding Jessica a mate and sending her back into the wild.

“Jessica is so trusting.” says Shirley. “Our constant fear now is that the same fate as Charlie’s may befall our precious Jess, the gentlest creature on Earth.”

Jessica has become quite the celebrity in town, starring in documentaries for Animal Planet, National Geographic and Discovery Channel, drawing tourists from near and far, keen to add hippo stroking to their repertoire of travel tales.

But not everyone is happy to see her, as she has also helped herself to their neighbor’s crops and the farmer has threatened to shoot her.

Neighbor Sybrand van Vuuren said while he ‘would not like to shoot Jessica,’ it would be hard to tell her apart from other hippos.

At night she frequently staggers out back to the river for a mud bath, then meanders back to the house wet and dripping slime, and either settles down on the veranda beneath a duvet on a mattress or plunks herself down on the couple’s bed.

House Hippopotamus Jessica 4
Photo Sky News

House Hippopotamus Jessica 14
Photo Telegraph

House Hippopotamus Jessica 30
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House Hippopotamus Jessica 31
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House Hippopotamus Jessica 32
Photo Telegraph

Shirley — a former beauty therapist — frequently gives the house hippo a soothing massage before she drifts off to sleep.

House Hippopotamus Jessica 3
Photo Sky News

Tonie used to work as a game ranger in the Luanga National Park, then began working in the anti-poaching Department for Nature Conservation in 1976.

He’s now in semi-retirement, which means he has plenty of time to spend with Jessica.

One of the most formidable and dangerous animals on earth, hippos kill more people than any other mammal in Africa. But despite her vast bulk and big teeth, Jessica seems anything but deadly.

But not even 20 years as a game ranger could have prepared Tonie for the amazing bond that developed

House Hippopotamus Jessica 7
Photo Go Nomad / Lucy Corne

House Hippopotamus Jessica 17
Photo Telegraph

House Hippopotamus Jessica 18
Photo Telegraph

“No one has ever tamed a hippo before.” said Tonie.

“She is amazingly gentle. Our friends’ 8-year-old daughter slipped in the water recently and Jessica immediately swam over to her and nudged her back on to the bank.”

“Jessica is an amazing creature.” said Shirley. “She’s not dangerous at all.”

“We never realized just how intelligent hippos are.”

Says Tonie, “Some people have told me I was wrong to save Jessica. They say you have to be cruel to be kind and that I should have left nature to go its own way.”

“But that would have guaranteed she ended up in a crocodile’s stomach.”

House Hippopotamus Jessica 19
Photo Telegraph

House Hippopotamus Jessica 20
Photo Telegraph

House Hippopotamus Jessica 29
Photo Telegraph

The Jouberts’ do accept visitors for Jessica daily from 10am until 12pm and again from 3pm until 5pm. If you’re in the area outside these hours give Tonie a call at 015 795 5349 and they might be able to fit you in.

There is a nominal fee of R50 ($7.20), which goes towards the rather pricey upkeep of a growing hippo.

Where you can find them:
Look out for a small sign on the R531, 10km west of Hoedspruit, then head a further 8km down a dirt road. Hoedspruit is in Limpopo, South Africa’s northernmost province, which borders Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

You can learn more about Jessica at Jessica the Hippo website.

House Hippopotamus Jessica 24
Photo Telegraph

House Hippopotamus Jessica 25
Photo Telegraph

House Hippopotamus Jessica 26
Photo Telegraph

About Hippopotamuses
Currently, the only large populations of hippos occur in the Nile River valley of East Africa.

Their eyes and nostrils protrude, allowing them to see and breathe while otherwise submerged in the water.

The hippopotamus typically sleeps during the day and maintains activity at night, but they’re not strictly nocturnal. Hippos may cover up to 53 miles (33 kilometers) of water each night in search of food. They eat mainly the grasses along the shores of the rivers they inhabit, but they have been seen grazing up to 5 miles (3 kilometers) from the shoreline.

Hippos are extremely graceful in the water, despite their clumsy appearance on land. Their gravity allows them to sink to the bottom of rivers and literally walk or run along the bottom.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Anything for a buck. i supposed when the Chinese found out they was making, the"Free Tibet Flags" they probably were quite upset, peace- gregor

'Free Tibet' flags made in China

Protesters holding a flag of the Tibet Government in Exile
Made in China? Police believe some flags may have already been shipped

Police in southern China have discovered a factory manufacturing Free Tibet flags, media reports say.

The factory in Guangdong had been completing overseas orders for the flag of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Workers said they thought they were just making colourful flags and did not realise their meaning.

But then some of them saw TV images of protesters holding the emblem and they alerted the authorities, according to Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper.

Tibet independence

The factory owner reportedly told police the emblems had been ordered from outside China, and he did not know that they stood for an independent Tibet.

Workers who had grown suspicious checked the meaning of the flag by going online.

Thousands of flags had already been packed for shipping.

Police believe that some may already have been sent overseas, and could appear in Hong Kong during the Olympic torch relay there this week.

The flag of the Tibet  government-in-exile
Known as the Snow Lion Flag
Introduced in 1912
Banned in mainland China

The authorities have now stepped up the inspection of cars heading to the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone and onwards to Hong Kong.

The Olympic torch is due to tour Hong Kong on Friday. It will then travel to a series of cities in mainland China before reaching Beijing for the start of the Olympic Games in August.

Its progress around the world has been marked by pro-Tibet demonstrations in several cities - including Paris, London and San Francisco.

Rallies began in the main Tibetan city of Lhasa on 10 March, led by Buddhist monks.

Over the following week protests spread and became violent - particularly in Lhasa, where ethnic Chinese were targeted and shops were burnt down.

Beijing cracked down on the protesters with force, sending in hundreds of troops to regain control of the restive areas.

But it has since agreed to resume talks with representatives of the Dalai Lama.

Nepal: The rocky red road

By Rabindra Mishra
BBC Nepali service

Maoist supporter celebrates in Kathmandu (12.04.08)
The Maoists' unexpected victory has surprised the former rebels themselves

The unexpected victory of the Maoist rebels in Nepal's elections has surprised the former rebels themselves, baffled political observers and stunned the international community.

The general expectation was that the rebels would trail behind the country's two largest political parties, the Nepali Congress, and the mainstream-left, the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist.

But both the parties were left far behind the Maoists who won half the seats chosen by the first-past-the-post system and gained about 30% of the votes for seats given by proportional representation.

The polls were to form an assembly to re-write the country's constitution and act as an interim parliament.

The Maoists fought a decade-long brutal insurgency which left 13,000 people dead and caused massive damage to the economy before committing themselves to mainstream politics two years ago.

Royal rumours

The challenges they face in the coming days are monumental.

The first and foremost will be to ease King Gyanendra out of the royal palace.

The Maoists and the other main political parties agreed in December that Nepal would become a republic after the April vote.

Maoist leader Prachanda has said he will meet the king himself to persuade him to voluntarily make a "graceful exit".

Rumours have been rife, especially in the Indian media, that the king is considering taking refuge in India where many Nepali rulers have taken shelter in times of trouble.

King  Gyanendra

However, a very senior palace source dismissed the rumours as baseless and told me that the king had no intention of leaving the country.

Under the current interim constitution, the king has no role in the affairs of the state and Nepal is regarded as a democratic republic, a provision supposed to be implemented in the first sitting of the Constituent Assembly.

However, a constitutional lawyer, Lalit Bahadur Basnet, says the implementation of the decision will first require amendment in the interim constitution as there are still references to the king.

"You can't declare a country a republic and have references to the king in the constitution at the same time," he said.

Some are also of the opinion that if all the provisions of the new constitution require a two-thirds majority for their approval, then the 240-year old monarchy cannot be removed simply on the basis of the December agreement.

The Maoists and many others say the December agreement actually represents the people's will, hence they overwhelmingly voted for a republican agenda.

Violent image

Another challenge for the Maoists will be to shed their image of a party that gets its way by using force.

The Maoist leader, Prachanda, has been quick to try to reassure the public, political parties and the international community about his party's commitment to multi-party and peaceful politics.

However, scepticism abounds.

Senior leaders of other parties have urged the Maoists to dismantle their radical youth organisation, the Young Communist League, blamed for many incidents of intimidation and extortion, before the former rebels can expect any co-operation.

Many worry that the power struggle between the Maoists and non-Maoists is likely to drag the muddled political process in Nepal for many years to come, leaving the people where they are

Privately, many politicians worry that if they co-operate, the former rebels in the new assembly will only be able to further consolidate their grip on power, sidelining other political parties for many years to come.

Some are saying that if they had foreseen the current scenario, they would have never severed their traditional link with the monarchy.

Others are lamenting that the mainstream political parties, who fought repeatedly for democracy, ironically became instrumental this time around in taking back the power from the far right, only to hand it over to the far left.

Such concerns may well be translated into a strategy of non-co-operation during the process of drafting the new constitution.

As every constitutional provision requires a two-thirds majority for its approval, it is likely that the major parties may not easily co-operate with the Maoists in an attempt to undermine their strength.

Military integration

The Maoists' planned integration of the former fighters into the national army will be an equally difficult task.

The army has said they will have no problem in working under a "legitimate" government.

But it has repeatedly made it clear that politically indoctrinated former rebel fighters cannot be part of the professional national army.

There is considerable bad blood between the two sides and, on occasions, the Maoist leader has used derogatory language against the army chief.

Apart from these challenges, the former rebels will have to deliver peace, stability and "economic revolution", all of which have remained their mantra for several years.

To make matters worse, the Maoist leadership will have to deal immediately with soaring price rises of food, fuel and construction material in the country.

If they fail to deliver, they know the public euphoria will not last long.

But many worry that the power struggle between the Maoists and non-Maoists is likely to drag the muddled political process in Nepal for many years to come, leaving the people where they are.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food

I was intrigued by this book when I read a glowing review of it on Yahoo news, and was able to finish it over several hours sitting in the local bookstore. Much like a fine Chinese meal, the Fortune Cookie Chronicles is fairly light, quite tasty, and in the end both filling and fulfilling. Because the book is so well written, it's a lot of fun and you'll learn more than you could have ever imagined about Chinese food in the United States (as well as elsewhere), something many of us -- myself included -- have long taken for granted.

The book traces the incredible history of Chinese food in the United States, with the author setting out to explore why it is so popular across the country. Along the way she is able to spin delicious yarns on such topics as the birth of General Tso's chicken (including a hilarious trip to the General's home town in rural China where absolutely no one has ever heard of the dish), the Japanese origins of the fortune cookie, the reasons for the Jewish love of Chinese cuisine, how human smuggling supplies the many thousands of Chinese workers who run Chinese restaurants across the country, and other areas.

One of the most fascinating things I learned from the book is that the Chinese food we all know and love barely resembles real Chinese food -- the type of food people eat in China. In traveling to China to sample and research food and culture across the large nation, the author herself was initially surprised by this, and as the book progresses the fact helps demonstrate how the development of Chinese(/American) food is symbolic of the broader change to the culture of Chinese people who have moved to and settled their families in America.

Indeed, more than being about the strange growth and metamorphosis of Chinese dishes in the U.S., this book is about how America has impacted Chinese-American culture and vice versa. The fact that Chinese dishes have been altered in order to fit the tastes of Americans reflects how many Chinese-American citizens, the author included, have culturally changed from their own parents and grandparents. While many Chinese-American dishes beloved here are totally unknown abroad -- and often even disliked by Chinese people in the Far East; such as General Tso's chicken -- their popularity has spawned the worldwide creation of a unique amalgam of cuisine that is both Chinese and American and not solely representative of either group alone (the brief section on P.F. Chang's as a form of upscale American-Chinese food is fascinating and exactly on point of this phenomenon). Furthermore, as the book shows, the popularity of Chinese food in the U.S. spreads across all of the states, cultures, ethnicities, and religions. The author does a fantastic job of dissecting the sheer love of Chinese food in all 50 states, and the history behind that astonishing popularity.

Upon finishing I was somewhat amazed that someone could have spent so much time and effort researching Chinese food, but it is clear that the author -- Jennifer 8. Lee of the New York Times -- has a passion for the subject, as well as an interest in exploring her own identity as a Chinese-American. Admittedly, while I read the Times every single day and have long noticed Ms. Lee's byline, all I could remember about her work was her cool middle name (perhaps the neatest middle initial and name since Harry S Truman). I will look out for her more now, as she is a superb writer and able to speak with a witty and lively prose. I am sure her future books will be equally as compelling.

If I can make a small complaint about the book, it probably goes on for a bit too long, ending at just under 300 pages. While this does not seem like much, I think the author could have cut a lot of the material that was included in the later chapters. Nevertheless, this is still a fun book to read, and a good gift.