Splish, splash, new Kalkilya hippo’s takin’ a bath

A 1.5-ton hippopotamus landed in the city’s zoo to the excited welcome of children, and amid throngs of Palestinian security personnel.

Hippopotamus at the Kalkilya Zoo 311 (photo credit: Courtesy Kalkilya Zoo)
Hippopotamus at the Kalkilya Zoo 311
(photo credit: Courtesy Kalkilya Zoo)
KALKILYA – Snorting and spitting, Kalkilya’s newest celebrity — a 1.5-ton hippopotamus — landed with great fanfare in the city’s zoo Tuesday morning, to the excited welcome of children, and amid throngs of Palestinian security personnel.
Annoyed by the continual movement of his cage, particularly as it hit the cement pavement, the hippopotamus occasionally bared his ivory-colored canine teeth that resembled small spikes, and occasionally spat.
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Politics had no play in the West Bank city as the biggest concern facing Palestinian and Israeli veterinarians on the chilly spring morning was how to navigate the six-year-old, asyet- unnamed hippo from its steel traveling cage into its new home, a fenced-in enclosure with a small blue pool.
“Think of it as ‘Animals without Borders,’” zoo’s director Saed Khater said, describing how he works closely with zoologists and other experts from the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo and the Ramat Gan Safari Park.
Kalkilya’s newest resident is the second hippopotamus to arrive at the Kalkilya Zoo from the Safari Park, which is less than a 30-minute drive away. Each animal – both of them males – cost the city-run zoo around $2,500.
Israeli veterinarian Mori Hertzenshten, who accompanied the beast from his former home, told reporters that hippopotami are extremely sociable creatures and do not like to live alone.
Traveling in a steel cage on a flatbed truck, it took the hard work of Kalkilya Zoo staff and Palestinian police to hoist the animal – with the help of a crane – into the zoo grounds and hook its cage up to a municipal truck.
The truck struggled to haul the great cage through the zoo’s narrow pathways, and the short ride soon became a complex affair that lasted almost as long as the journey from Ramat Gan.
As the hippopotamus’s cage was transported through the grounds, its metal bars chopped off low-lying tree branches and at one point hit the sidewalk, almost taking out a steel bar. The cage also narrowly missed two startled children busy buying pink cotton candy and hot corn on the cob.
Photographers anxious to get a shot of the new celebrity climbed high up onto the green bars that enclosed the hippopotamus’s new home, seemingly unaware of the danger.
Once the hippopotamus left its traveling cage, the gray-skinned animal headed for the pool and. His buddy, Dubi, was tucked safely away indoors, allowing the newcomer to adjust to his new surroundings.
“It will take two or three days for them to get to know each other,” Khater explained.
Hertzenshten said the zoo had requested two males, and not a male-female partnership, because it was not equipped to deal with hippopotamus offspring.
Established in 1986 on nine dunams (0.9 hectares) of land, the Kalkilya Zoo is the city’s most important attraction, and the only such institution in the West Bank. (There is a small zoo in the Gaza Strip.)
According to Khater, the zoo is home to 170 animals representing 65 species. Most came from Israel, South Africa or Europe.
Despite its power to cut across borders and rise above the conflict, the zoo has not been immune to the fighting. During the second intifada, it was forced to briefly close its doors, and at one point tear gas from clashes between Palestinians and the IDF in Kalkilya reached it.
Khater said the fighting scared the zoo’s male giraffe, causing it to run into a fence and sustain fatal injuries. Within weeks, he added, its mate died of a broken heart.
With the violence now behind them, Khater said he was looking for ways to expand the zoo to 36 dunams, and to add penguins and elephants. He said he would also like to obtain new giraffes. The zoo hopes in the coming months to become a member of EAZA, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria.
The city is surrounded by an Israeli military zone and has little industry. Khater said the zoo was Kalkilya’s largest employer and one of its most important assets.
“We want to enlarge our zoo because it is one of the main branches that supports the local economy,” he said.
For the children who visit, however, the zoo is only about animals. They particularly love the monkeys, bears and lions, Khater said. “It is nice to see the smile on their faces.”