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Turgwe Hippo Trust

Karen and Jean Paolillo
The Turgwe Hippo Trust came into being after the hippos’ lives were threatened during a horrendous drought in the south east Lowveld of Zimbabwe, back in 1991/92. This non-profit Trust was formed after the successful completion of a feeding program and water supply exercise undertaken by the Paolillo’s during those traumatic times.

Karen Paolillo and her French geologist husband Jean-Roger were camping above the Turgwe River during that period. With Karen’s past experience as a professional photographic safari guide, she was aware that the hippos had very little chance to survive once the rains failed.

At that time the area Jean-Roger was exploring in search of gold was under cattle ranching. Many of Africa’s natural inhabitants lived there. In 1993 the cattle fences were to come down and all the cattle removed, so that the various land owners could amalgamate their properties. This was to allow the bush to return to how it was before man came along with his cattle.

This resulted into the largest private Wildlife Conservancy in Southern Africa being formed, an area of bush covering over 3,000 square kilometers solely for wildlife. The area was named the Save (pronounced Savé) Valley Conservancy.
Turgwe River Where the Hippos live
In the drought though, thousands of animals were to die but around Hippo Haven, the Paolillo’s camp site, this was not the case. Karen sought advice on how to feed in-situ the last remaining Turgwe Hippos. From London Zoo to zoos in the States, she asked for ideas on what she could feed wild hippos in order to sustain them until the rains came back.

She was the first to feed wild hippos in their natural habitat for the long period of 10 months. So successful was her feeding program that she kept alive the last 13 hippos left in the Turgwe River, and two of the females actually conceived during that period. Not only did she supply every night nearly 1 ton of food to the hippos and other animals that came to her feeding station, but she and her husband designed a large cemented water pan that would allow the hippos to live in and submerge. The hippos’ river, the Turgwe, completely dried up.

They had a pipeline installed to go to the nearest deep underground water bore holes some 18 km (12 miles) away, and they built water troughs to allow the hippos and other animals to drink clean water. Through monitoring the hippos water consumption, she found out that a fully grown hippo would drink 200 liters of water per 24 hours.
Hippo Haven the house Jean-Roger and Karen built with their own hands
Now two decades later, Tembia, the calf born to Bob and Lace during that period has his own family. They live just five kilometers upstream from the Turgwe Hippo Trust. Born on June 16th 1993, he has now (2012) fathered over six calves. 45 calves have been born since the drought and Karen’s recipe for feeding hippos can be used for ever more. It proved a great success and entails a ration of 45 kg (90 lbs) of high protein Soya bean hay and 3 kg (6 lb) of game nuts or horse cubes per adult hippo a night.

Link to Turgwe Hippo Trust Website