Limpopo - Solly the hippo is dead. After spending the past four days in the 10x5m pool in the Monate Game Lodge, the 1-ton hippo died because “the vet took too long to arrive and this animal was stressed to death”, says the lodge manager.
The rescue mission was always going to be dangerous. He had a one-in-three chance of succumbing to the tranquillising dart. If too little water was pumped out and he was darted he could have drowned.
And if the operation took too long he could have become too distressed or overheated in the shallow pool.
In the end a diversion by the vet to a nearby farm to deal with the difficult birth of a sable antelope meant that the rescue operation which was due to start at 8am only got under way after 10am.
The plan, according to Simon Prinsloo, of Nylsvlei Game Dealers, was that once the vet arrived on the scene, the water from the pool in which Solly was trapped would be drained and he would be darted. The animal would need to be moved within an hour as “every animal, from an impala to an elephant, reacts differently, you just don’t know what to expect”.
But as the water was pumped out of the swimming pool in preparation for his removal, Solly became more stressed with the huge animal lying on his side.
He kept trying to get to his feet but the floor was too slippery for him to lift his weight and he kept thrashing his head against the pool.
Animal activist Selomie Maritz, on whose farm Solly was to stay once rescued, had a premonition that the hippo would not arrive on her farm alive.
Just before 11am Solly lifted his head above the water and took his final breath.
For several minutes his body lay still and game capturers questioned whether he was still alive.
Rescuers tried to revive him by cooling him off with a hosepipe but there was no response.
Onlookers realised Solly was dead when veterinarian Alex Lewis, who had just arrived, took off his shoes and socks and jumped into the pool and there was no reaction from the beast. Lewis placed a harness on the hippo and the body was hoisted out of the pool with Lewis standing on top of him.
Lodge manager Nico Ferreira placed the blame of Solly’s death squarely on Lewis’s delay: “The vet took too long to arrive and this animal was stressed to death.”
But Lewis, who confirmed that Solly was male, said the hippo was in poor condition and had not been eating properly for a while – even before he was stranded in the pool.
“He has been stressed for a long time… and stressed animals die,” he said.
Lewis defended himself against accusations that he arrived too late saying that if he had darted Solly, the hippo would most likely have died because of his condition.
The carcass will be taken to a game farm where a postmortem will be conducted before his remains are fed to predators.
Lewis referred to the beast as a martyr, because through an autopsy they may be able to discover other ailments that are affecting the rest of the pod.
Solly was named after a long-serving game ranger at the lodge, Solly Sibuyi.
Ferreira’s wife Ruby Ferreira, also a manager, said 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 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 by an older male,” he said, explaining that a family of about seven hippos lived on a dam on the farm.
The hippo became a sensation after the online community anti-crime organisation eblockwatch asked its members for help to rescue him.