The saving of Solly the hippo on Friday will be dangerous for him – he has a one-in-three chance of succumbing to the tranquillising dart.
But on Thursday, he appeared oblivious to the possible dangers ahead.
He basked in the attention of clicking cameras and prime-time television, and it seemed he was looking forward to spending his third night in a swimming pool and being fed some lucerne.
The young hippo, believed to be about three years old, is unable to climb out of the 10mx5m pool in the Monate Game Lodge, near Modimolle in Limpopo because the sides are too steep.
And it’s going to be a mission for the game capturers, a crane and a veterinarian to get the 1-ton animal out of the water.
“If you dart him and there is water, his head could slip under and he could drown,” said Simon Prinsloo, of Nylsvlei Game Dealers.
On Friday, the plan, said Prinsloo, was to dart Solly with a tranquilliser, come what may.
Once it has taken effect, the hippo will be blindfolded and strapped into a harness. A crane will then hoist the animal out of the swimming pool.
That’s the theory.
Out of the pool, there will be two options, said Prinsloo.
One, the crane will lift the animal directly onto an open-roofed truck.
The other is that they will “walk” the animal into the truck, while it is still semi-conscious, and guide and gently push it with a rope placed across its rump.
All will depend, said Prinsloo, on the state of the hippo after the tranquilliser dart has taken effect.
It is a dangerous procedure for humans and the hippo.
“Hippos are not play things,” said Prinsloo.
Solly became a media sensation after the online community anti-crime organisation eblockwatch asked its members for help to rescue the animal. Its founder, Andre Snyman, was so taken, he wanted to call the hippo Stroppie, in honour of Stroppie Grobbelaar, an ex-cop and member.
But lodge manager Ruby Ferreira said: “Look, once he is off our property, they can call them anything they want. But now he is Solly,” named after their long-serving game ranger, Solly Sibuyi.
Ruby said Solly the hippo had ended up in the pool on Tuesday. “The night security called in at about 4am and said that something is in the pool.
“It didn’t fall in, he said, there was not much of a splash. My husband went to have a look, and there he was.”
Nico Ferreira, Ruby’s husband, had been watching Solly for a couple of days, as the animal wandered around aimlessly, close to the chalets.
“We believe he was kicked out of the pod by an older male,” said Nico, explaining that a family group of about seven hippos live on a dam on the game farm.
Animal activist Selomie Maritz, who was called in to help with the hippo rescue, knows there is a one in three chance that Solly will die from the tranquilliser dart.
But if he survives, she will take Solly to her farm with its five dams.
There he (or she) is to become an anti-rhino poaching deterrent.
“If somebody wanders onto the farm at night he will charge them,” she said.
Nobody is really sure if Solly is male or female. They think he’s a bull but this will be confirmed only once someone has a good look as he hangs from the crane.
Dead or alive.