Once upon a time in Kenya, on a peaceful river near the east coast of Africa, a herd of hippopotamus was surprised by heavy rain. The rain washed them away from their river home, toward the Indian Ocean. Then came something worse. A tsunami! In the huge, windy storm the ocean waters became strong.
The hippos were in danger. They had to get back to the shore. But the tsunami made the ocean very strong and wild. Most of the hippos did not make it.
When the tsunami came, the people who lived near the ocean were afraid. Neighbors rushed to help rescue fishermen who were out on their boats in the wild ocean. Families ran away from the ocean. They were afraid that the water and wind would wreck their homes, and they wanted to get to a safer place as fast as they could. Nobody was thinking about the hippos.
A few days later, the sky was blue again and the Indian Ocean was quiet again. Many homes had been destroyed by water and wind. People began to clean up and fix everything.
On the shore of the ocean, one survivor needed help. It was one of the hippos, a baby hippo. He was the only one of his family left, and he was standing on a reef in the ocean, all alone.
People ran to help rescue the hippo and many more came to watch. A hippo is very big and heavy, even a baby. And this hippo was also wet, tired, and upset. Would he let the people help him?
(Ask the children how they think the people could rescue the hippo. Allow some responses.)
Here is what they used. Ropes. Cars. Boats. Fishing nets, very big ones. But the baby hippo was frightened and did not want to come along. He was so large, fast, and slippery, nobody could grab him to bring him to safety. Finally, when the hippo was tangled up in a big fishing net, a strong man named Owen jumped on the hippo and captured him.
Kenya has a wildlife refuge where animals that lose their homes in the wild can be safe in surroundings like what they are used to. Paula Kahumbu worked at that wildlife refuge. She came to the ocean to get the baby hippo and bring him to Haller Park, where he would be safe. She brought a veterinarian, Dr. Kashmiri, and an animal caretaker, Stephen Tuei.
With lots and lots of help, Paula Kahumbu and Stephen Tuei managed to get the baby hippo onto their truck. The people by the ocean who had watched the incredible rescue agreed the baby hippo should be named Owen, after the man who had successfully tackled him. Dr. Kahumbu brought the baby hippo to Haller Park.
Baby Owen was confused and scared when they got to Haller Park. Right away, he found someone to protect him. Do you think he found a new hippopotamus mother or dad? Not exactly. He ran right over to Mzee. Mzee was not a hippo. Mzee was a giant tortoise, a kind of turtle, so big he was almost the same size as Owen. Mzee was 130 years old.
At first Mzee acted surprised that Owen was following him around and trying to sleep right next to him, just like a baby hippo would do with its hippo mother. Stephen Tuei wondered what was going to happen. After a few days, Mzee did not seem to mind the baby hippo’s company. Tortoises and hippos both enjoy going in the water. Owen followed Mzee when he went swimming, and tried to share Mzee’s food, too. Mzee didn’t like that so much. But the two stuck together most of every day. Owen became more and more used to his new home in Haller Park. And he always slept right next to Mzee.