Unhappy, Very Unhappy Hippos
On any usual day you’ll find me a happy and optimistic character and my outlook is always reflected in the topics I choose to write about on this blog. In my life I believe it’s far more productive to focus on the positives and try to minimise the amount of time and energy spent on any negativity. That’s just how I choose to nurture my mind and soul. Today is going to be an exception to that rule.
I’ve been mulling over a problem for the last week and have been exhausting many avenues to determine the best approach to this issue I’m about to raise. If in doubt, write and hopefully the necessary road will present itself…
I went on holiday to Rome a week ago and drank in the culture, art and all the glorious attributes of such a tremendous city. I’ll be raving about the splendour of Rome for many moons. There was one thorn to the trip that I’m simply unable to let go of. We had a whole morning at the stunning Borghese Gallery and spent hours in the park. We stopped at a small stall to stock up on water for the rest of our day and took a time out on a nearby bench. I noticed on a sign that we were within a matter of yards from Rome Zoo (Bioparco di Roma). Bursting with excitement we headed straight there.
I will not side step around the point of this article but I have never come away from such an establishment so upset and pained by what I witnessed. We were visiting for no more than 30 minutes long before it was unbearable to see any more and we left in haste. The state of the animals themselves and the enclosures was heartbreaking to say the absolute least. I am an animal lover and understand the concept of a zoo. Whether it’s for a rehabilitation function for endangered/injured species or for a public entertainment focus, the core message is the same… animals need to be taken care of and treasured!!
[I am aware that there are strong opinions on whether animals should even be used for public viewing/entertainment but this article is not focusing on that particular topic today please.]
On the day itself there were a handful of animals and enclosures that were a real shock to look at and initially I didn’t want to take any photos as I was in utter disbelief at what I was looking at. Part of me was hoping that with every corner I turned, things might get better and improve. Looking back I’m annoyed at myself for not taking more pictures in order to help illustrate the severity of this situation. However, I do have these incredibly upsetting photos of the hippo enclosure.
I sat and watched those hippos for about 15 minutes to the point I had a tear in my eye. Firstly, look at the ridiculous size of that pool. It was very shallow so the hippos were unable to fully submerge or swim around. They were kept apart with a metal bar between them. As you can see the hippo on the left was repeatedly banging his head against the metal bars. This kind of behaviour reminded me of the behaviour of some of the orca whales in captivity. People have been made aware of the odd and heartbreaking behaviour of animals in captivity for years, you just have to watch the documentary ‘Blackfish’, you can also read this article for more information on Abnormal Behaviour Of Animals In Captivity (thank you Born Free Foundation). Head banging is not a new sign of trauma in captivity.
GET THE HIPPOS OUT OF ROME ZOO
The name “hippopotamus” comes from a Greek word meaning “water horse” or “river horse.”
For a species described as ‘semi-aquatic’ this doesn’t quite fulfil that description, does it? Water helps them cool down and keep their skin moist in high temperatures… it was 36°C the day we visited! For such heavy animals, when they are in water, they become weightless which helps relieve them from their heavy frame. None of these physiological needs are fulfilled in this enclosure. Considering these beautiful animals live to between 30-50 years old, that’s a pretty depressing existence. ‘The Global Federation Of Animal Sanctuaries: Standards for Rhinoceros and Hippopotamus’ have made specifications for the dimensions expected for the keeping of these animals. Based on my photos, something tells me that that there has been no “particular attention to water features”.
“Zoos worldwide are responsible for ensuring that the animals they host are able to live in an environment that fully respects their behavioural and physiological needs”
The zoo sets out its own ethics policy on its Bioparco Website and as you can see from the photos, it’s definitely questionable whether they are even living up to their own standards!
In hindsight I wish I had been less sensitive and known that it would have been a good idea to take hundreds of photos of all of the animals. The whole zoo was filthy, old and there were some parts that had clearly closed down and already had greenery growing all over the doors. However, small steps at a time and so for now my focus is going to be on getting those hippos out of Rome zoo. In my view, there is absolutely no way that this enclosure abides by any form of standard, it’s disgraceful that an animal of that size should be restricted to such a small space. Or worse, if that really is the current ‘acceptable’ standard then it needs to be changed!! Surely there has to be laws that animals of this size must be able to be fully submerged within a space of particular dimensions?
I’m not the first and I am not alone in my reactions, I spent hours trawling through some of the Tripadvisor comments from other upset members of the public that date back to 2012. This is clearly not a new issue. I find it astounding that a TV advert can receive just one complaint and that can be enough to set off an investigation that can lead to it being withdrawn from air time. Yet, there are negative reviews flying all over the place regarding the safety and well being of live animals being contained in unsuitable zoos and nothing is being done about it…
As previously mentioned above, I’m not sure how productive it would be to target Bioparco di Roma as a whole, hence the concentration on the issues with the hippos, but I just want to highlight another issue that’s been grinding on my morals. There was an enclosure holding a variety of animals but specifically Capybara. You’ll notice from the photos that they are kept in a grit/mud/dusty enclosure with no grass, trees or any body of water. If you read ANY document on this species you will understand how important their habitat is Capybara Fact Document.
Traits & Characteristics of Capybara
(also known as a water-hog)
- – Spend much time in water
- – Water immersion helps regulate body temperature
- – Lowlands from open plains to tropical rain forests, always near water
- – Swampy, marshy, grassy areas bordering rivers, ponds, streams, lakes
- – Prefer nutrient-rich muddy rivers with aquatic grasses
Last of all, the Bioparco di Roma has a ‘farm section’ dedicated to cows, goats, pigs etc. All the enclosures with these animals have no access to any grass, only concrete. My family own a farm and so I whole heartedly understand how ESSENTIAL habitat is for these creatures, any creatures in fact. Not sure there are many species known to thrive on concrete. It takes no expert to possess the knowledge of how important their habitat is or recognise a sad animal. The saddest animal of all was this cow… it’s side, underbelly and rear-end were encrusted entirely in brown. As it walked out of the stable it had an obvious limp in one of its legs, which when restricted to an uneven concrete enclosure can’t help. An absolute disgrace!
I am not an animal rights activist, I have never protested on any similar topics but THIS has flipped an irreversible switch and as a human being I know the responsibility bestowed upon OUR species to protect all animals. Given the state of Bioparco di Roma, I can only guess that nobody has done anything to confront this problem head on. In that vein, I am calling to all of you human beings to help me be heard…
GET THE HIPPOS OUT!!!!!
This is not normal and this is not okay. There are zoos dotted all over the globe that keep this species and keep them well. You’ll notice in the case of these zoos that have one or even multiple hippopotamus, they are given enough water space to swim, float and play. Just by watching the videos you’ll notice how different their behaviour is, it is not in their nature to just sit and float.
Meet Bruce from San Francisco Zoo
Hippo from San Diego Zoo
Hippo at Longleat Safari Park
It can be done and this is how it is supposed to be… Look at these happy happy hippos from Dublin, Toronto, Calgary and Prague Zoo (to mention just a few)
Brian Wilson San Fran Zoo
Lobi The Hippo Calgary Zoo
Dublin Zoo Hippo
There have been multiple reviews and complaints submitted regarding the state of Bioparco di Roma over the course of a few years with nothing leading to any form of action. I’m in a variety of conversations with people around the world but please if you can help, please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s rescue the hippos! Please share these wherever you can, let’s raise awareness asap!