Maja Hampson

Research, zoo keeping adventures, art, unicorns

“I want a hippopotamus for Christmas
Only a hippopotamus will do
No crocodiles, no rhinoceroses
I only like hippopotamuses
And hippopotamuses like me too

Mom says the hippo would eat me up, but then
Teacher says a hippo is a vegetarian

There's lots of room for him in our two-car garage
I'd feed him there and wash him there and give him his massage”

Most of us have heard the novelty song “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas” by John Coctoasten. It's hilarious and young boy that preforms it is priceless – especially when he only likes hippopotamuses. I don't want to take a song that was made purely for fun too seriously but keeping wild animals as pets is actually a very real problem. It would be hypocritical to act appalled by this song since my zoo's hippo is feature in a Telus commercial with this song playing in the background.

Side note: I like Telus because they give back to the environment and they support zoos financially for their contribution to their commercials – with the parameters that anything the zoos use the money on has to be a “green” project. Telus says: “Since 2000, we have collectively contributed $245 million to charitable and not-for-profit organizations and volunteered 4.1 million hours of service to local communities.” Their volunteers have been out at our zoo to help us as well and their contribution is invaluable.

The reality is that far too many wild animals are kept as pets. There are more tigers kept as house pets than there are tigers in the wild (whaaat?) At my zoo, my lynx, caracal, coyotes and male lion were rescued from people who had kept them as pets. People are often shocked to hear this, but it's true and very legal in several states and Canadian provinces. I can't even count the number of children who I speak to during the year that try to convince me that they should be allowed to have an exotic animal as a pet. I spoke to a boy in the 8th grade that worked really hard to convince me that he should be allowed to have a pet tiger. He told me that he would keep it in his back yard and that would be plenty of space for it. I countered by explaining that tigers need much more space than that. I also told him that animals never loose their instincts and he said that he would raise it from a “baby” and that would make the tiger love him. I told him gently that even if you have the animal from day one, those wild instincts never leave them and they can turn on you at any time. Several keepers have been killed on the job, it's a risk that we are all aware of. It's a huge misconception that animals in captivity aren't wild. I don't trust any of my cats, I love them but I don't trust them.

The part of the song that says “Mom says the hippo would eat me up, but then Teacher says a hippo is a vegetarian,” is both comical and sad. Hippos are in fact vegetarians but they kill almost 3000 people a year in Africa. They are aggressive, unpredictable and have no fear of humans. This is true whether you attempt to raise them from infancy or not.

I think children want exotic animals as pets because they want a connection with nature. They most likely get this fantasy from movies. I think it's good for children to foster a connection with nature and animals, but I try to teach all the children that I meet that the best thing they can do for animals is to respect them and leave them in the wild where they belong. It's a misconception that “there's lots of room for him in our two-car garage.” Animals need space and the freedom to change their location when ever they like, especially migratory animals.

Another thing to keep in mind is that it's common around the holiday season to see articles in the paper about animal shelters in your area being over run by homeless dogs, cats and bunnies. Don't forget about your local community. No animals should be given as a gift, but if you and your family gave decided to get a pet this season make sure you head to your local shelter and adopt one. You can also help them out by making a donation or volunteering!

I wish you all a safe and happy holidays. I'll be back from vacation after January 21st. I'll post another entry then :D

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