Written by Karen Paolillo of the Turgwe Hippo Trust
The downside of living in Africa is not the supposed dangers of animals being red in tooth and claws but instead the little guy that can really bring you down. In this case the malaria mosquito. Normally both Jean-Roger and I get malaria at the same time, the mosquito having made sure it bites both of us! Once, Jean-Roger was nearly recovered but not up to heavy physical work, and I was still in that twilight zone, having to frequently return to a prone position. DaiDai, an African man, had come to start the pump installed in the Turgwe River. This pump used to pump water up a four hundred foot rocky hill into a large brick tank. Water then fed by gravity through another pipe line into man-made pans built for the wild animals.
That morning DaiDai told Jean: “Mr. Paolillo, there is a leopard in the tank and it’s making too much noise!” Well, to say Jean was flummoxed was an understatement, as at that moment DaiDai was pumping. So the eight feet deep tank was filling up and would drown the leopard. He told him to immediately turn it off.
Jean had only one option: to climb the hill and somehow get the leopard out of the tank. He told me his plan and in my weakened state I asked him to take my camera.
Jean’s climb was hard and as he got closer, the sounds of a distressed leopard growling were heard. The only problem was that the noise wasn’t coming from the tank but from the bushes nearby!
DaiDai flatly refused to go another step, so Jean cautiously, oh so cautiously, approached the tank. By pulling himself up the sheer side, he looked down into the eyes of two bedraggled leopard cubs, so young that one’s eyes were brown while the other’s were still blue. It was their mother who was making all the noise!
Jean took as many photos as quickly as he could, while he devised a plan. The light was just perfect and the cubs’ angelic faces stared up at him. His shots were definitely award winning!
He then returned to DaiDai, telling him they must cut a tree long enough to reach the tank’s bottom and enable both cubs to climb out. DaiDai agreed to cut the tree but said there was no way he was accompanying Jean-Roger, as a mother leopard would be a very dangerous animal indeed.
Undaunted, Jean managed to drag the freshly cut tree to the tank then somehow, push it inside. The first cub was up the tree in seconds, out and over towards the sounds of mother, in less time than it took Jean to take a photo. The second cub was not so bright and just crouched there staring at Jean. So Jean cut a long, thin stick and began prodding the cub, hoping to direct it towards the tree. The cub now thought this was a great game, and like any cat played with the stick, while all the time Jean could hear Mummy growling. This leopard could count, and wanted cub number two to join her. At long last, the cub followed Jean’s stick to the tree and slowly climbed up. Jean managed to snap one last photo.
Success tasted oh, so sweet. Jean was desperate to show me the photos but we would have to wait for the film to be developed. He knew they were great shots. He had survived and rescued two cubs, doing it all with the malaria still weakening his body.
On arriving home he told me the whole story and went off to put the kettle on. On his return, he found his wife being uncharacteristically kind to him, telling him how wonderful he was and generally being very demonstrative, which is so unusual for me! He smelt a rat.
Sure enough, in my weakened state with the malaria ruling my brain and body, I had forgotten the most important part of photography at that time. Yes, you guessed it. The film!
Read More of Karen‘s Adventures
Karen Paolillo’s new book A Hippo Love Story is now available internationally through Karen’s website or on Amazon. Reader Donna Fahrni writes, “This story also takes the reader into the heart of Africa, the joys, the beauty and the hardships at times of living so close to the edge. In fact the sheer dangers encountered by Karen and Jean Roger are not from the animals but from man.
Karen was once told she had the courage of a lion. I see this time and again throughout the book, as well as the love and compassion she bestows on the hippos and all the creatures that cross her path.”
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