Tanja the Hippo-squat-amus

Alot of people have been coming up to me lately and saying, in unison, “Eric, you are certainly one heck of a funny guy, and I enjoy reading your column immensely, but when are you going to stop goofing around and start writing about serious issues? Like, for instance, mother hippos who accidentally crush their babies.”

Well, you asked for it. There is an extremely over-protective mother hippo at the Amsterdam Zoo, and she has crushed ten of her babies to date, and she is still going strong, as she is apparently going for the record.

While this at first sounds like the plot in a G-rated Disney movie (“Honey, I Crushed the Kids”), it is of course no laughing matter. I learned about it in a brief item in a recent edition of the Daily Herald. The headline reads, “Tanja the hippo kills her 10th baby,” as if “Hippos Killing Their Own Babies” is some kind of exciting contest that Tanja, against the Las Vegas odds, has just pulled ahead in. The story states that Tanja is very afraid that the zoo people are going to hurt her babies, so she sleeps on them. The babies, I mean. If she slept on the zoo people, that would be another matter entirely, and wouldn’t seem nearly as funny, I’m sure, unless the zoo people were real jerks, like the circus people who abused Dumbo’s mother.

Anyway, the zoo people don’t want Tanja to go on suffocating every baby she has, largely, I imagine, because crushed baby hippos probably are not exactly what you would call a big tourist attraction there at the zoo.

LITTLE BOY: Daddy, what’s that?
DAD: Well, Timmy, it’s either a crushed baby hippo, or a mangled loveseat.
LITTLE BOY: (bursts into tears)

In fact, the zoo people have taken a firm stance on this subject: “This has got to stop” is what a zoologist named — I swear — Dick Dekker said. “She just sits on them,” he added, just in case the initial image we had received of a 3-ton hippo sitting on another hippo had somehow escaped our memory.

What the zoo people are doing is trying to keep Tanja from having more babies. Tanja probably does not agree with their decision, but I think she relinquished her say in the matter somewhere around squished hippo #3. The article states that “zookeepers have tried everything, from separating Tanja and her mate, Joop, to using an injectable contraceptive.” This raises a number of interesting questions, namely:

– It says they’ve tried “separating Tanja from her mate, Joop.” Why, pray tell, didn’t that work? If Tanja and Joop are separated from each other, how in the world did she get pregnant anyway?

– Did it perhaps have something to do with the way flowers reproduce even when they are on opposite sides of the field? Were bees involved somehow?

– Right now, are you imagining two hippos sneaking out of their little simulated habitats and meeting clandestinely in a motel? I know I am.

– Why aren’t there any injectable contraceptives for humans? Perhaps because it would be uncomfortable to carry them in your wallet?

Unfortunately, these questions do not have answers. All we can do is hope that Tanja gets over whatever problem it is that she has, and that peace and quiet will once again be restored to the Amsterdam Zoo. At least until Joop finds out his mate has been sitting on their kids. Then, I imagine, all heck will break loose.

(Eric D. Snider is a freshman at BYU. He is originally from Lake Elsinore, Calif., and he has always wanted to have a hippo for a pet.)

I really like this column. I think it's fresher and funnier than a lot of stuff I wrote that year. I especially like the fact that they wanted to keep Tanja from having more babies, and so they tried separating her from her mate, but that didn't work. I still don't understand that.

I'm always amazed at what gets edited out. In this column, the line "LITTLE BOY: (bursts into tears)" got cut. I don't know if the idea of having a little boy disturbed was too much for our readers, or if it was merely for spaces allowances. Either way, it's an odd thing to cut, and too bad, because I think it makes that exchange funnier.

One other minor point. When I looked at the newspaper clipping of this article, I noticed the sentence that was printed thusly: "...and wouldn't seem nearly as funny, I'm sure, unless the zoo people were real jerks, like the circus people in 'Dumbo' who abused Dumbo's mother." I realized that I had phrased it wrong. I shouldn't have said "the circus people in 'Dumbo' who abused Dumbo's mother"; I should have just said "the circus people who abused Dumbo's mother." As it was printed, I was over-explaining the reference.

The thing is, as I looked at my original version of the column -- the one I handed in to the Daily Herald, and the one shown above -- I discovered that I HAD phrased it correctly, and that the Herald people had added the extra explanation themselves. Interesting that years later, I should notice that an interpolation made by the editors was a bad one, without even realizing that it was their doing and not mine. OK, maybe it's not all that interesting.

One thing that is DEFINITELY interesting is that in 1999, I found a link to this column from a hippo-lovers Web site. That's right, an entire site, just for hippos and hippo fans. It has links to other hippo sites (because of course there are many), including a link to this particular column. Here's what it says about it: "A newspaper story about an overprotective mother hippo. Disturbing, yet funny in a way." I always like it when my columns are disturbing first, THEN funny.