Written by Karen Paolillo of the Turgwe Hippo Trust in Zimbabwe
The Turgwe Hippo Trust in Zimbabwe is not just about protecting hippos and other wildlife from the illegal bush meat trade and poachers in Africa. It will help any animal that enters Hippo Haven’s sanctuary, all our welcome.
Two decades ago it started when the Paolillo’s saved the lives of the last 13 hippos during an horrendous drought. Initially using their own money to save the hippos lives their passions were stretched keeping 57 wild animals alive alongside the hippos. As if to compound their workload Karen one day came upon a sight that touched her heart and was impossible to walk away from.
Two little twin goat kids were lying in a huddle next to another family of goats, looking as if they had only seconds left to live. She found out from the very elderly African man named Muzite, who was in charge of caring for the goats, that their mother had been taken by a crocodile the previous day. She had been trying to quench her thirst in the very last water pool in the Turgwe River, where over 21 crocodiles had congregated.
There were no other goats with milk and so Muzite just let them lie there breathing their last gasps, as the heat of an African sun beat upon their tiny bodies. Of course the baby goats, named Rigelle and Regulus, had to come back with Karen to Hippo Haven as there was no way Karen could leave them to such an unkind fate.
Once at the sanctuary they became part of the daily lives of all the wild animals, and within a year Karen had found herself the custodian to not just 2 but 16 baby goats. Muzite and his goats were then taken away from the area by the farmer but Karen and Jean Paolillo now had 16 babies as part of their extended family.
They Lived in a Place of Beauty, Surrounded by Love
Every goat had their own little houses with a table to sleep upon in a lockable stable at night which the Paolillo’s had built for them. Predators such as lions and leopards would have loved a goat feast. During the daylight hours, all 16 lived out their lives with wild animals often side by side.
Just before New Year’s in 2011, Felix, the very last of these goats, was ready to cross the Rainbow Bridge. He was 16 years old and his life with the Paolillos was nearing its end. There are no veterinarians near the sanctuary. The nearest vet lives a six hour drive away, since the sanctuary is located in a remote area of the African bush.
An Extraordinary Bond
Felix though could not have been more loved. Thanks to Oephebia, a wonderful French lady animal healer living in the UK, his last days on earth were spent in love and calmness with Karen and Jean in their home. He spent Christmas with them and their family of cats and their tortoise, and he lay on his bed in the living room next to the Christmas tree.
Every goat that lived out his life at the Turgwe Hippo Trust taught Karen daily lessons. The most important one is that all animals on our planet, be it a large and beautiful hippo, a tiny little kitten or a so-called ‘farm animal’ is so much more than so many people believe. All animals are sentient beings and those little baby goats grew into the most amazing companions one could ever have. In fact the love story between Jean and Felix in his last months was a lesson in itself for both man and goat. Felix had always been the most timid of all the others and kept very much to himself but as he turned out to be the last living descendant he came into his own and Jean was his chosen friend. The love between the two had to be seen to be appreciated.