Wednesday, 3 October 2012

A South African Tragedy

"There can be no doubt that the average man blames much more than he praises.
His instinct is to blame.
If he is satisfied he says nothing; if he is not, he most illogically kicks up a row"
Golda Meir

Solly became a media sensation after the online community anti-crime organisation eblockwatch asked its members for help to rescue him.   The hippo's mother reportedly gave birth recently, and more dominant males forced him from the herd.  He is believed to have been chased by a larger bull hippo from his local dam ending up trapped in the 8-foot-deep  guest swimming pool at the Monate Game Lodge, near Modimolle, Nylstroom.   Although he was able to swim freely, he couldn't get out because the pool had no steps.
The hippo was named Solly after one of his caregivers.  Solly Sibuyi, 30, who has been a game warden at the lodge for nine years, has been feeding the 4-year-old hippo and checking up on him before and after game drives to make sure "he's still okay”.

On Thursday, two days later, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said a team was preparing to recover the hippo from the pool and transfer him to another dam in the area.  Simon Prinsloo, of Nylsvlei Game Dealers, had said that Solly would be darted with a tranquilliser. Once it had taken effect, the hippo would be blindfolded and strapped into a harness. A crane would then hoist the animal out of the swimming pool.
By early Friday, the hippo was showing signs of stress and was no longer able to stand in the pool, which had been drained of most of its water in preparation for the rescue.  Lying in the murky, feces-strewn water, he emerged occasionally for air, sighing anxiously as he gazed at journalists gathering around the pool.  While the lodge worked to care for the animal, there was no getting away from the fact that pool was not a natural environment for Solly.  Then, just as veterinarian Dr. Alex Lewis arrived, apparently 4 hours late, the hippo tried one last time to get to his feet. He couldn't make it. Exhausted, he dropped his head into the knee-deep water, making a splash, then lay still.
What started out as a day of hope for Solly the hippo turned to tragedy when rescuers were unable to save the 3-ton beast from the swimming pool.
Solly's demise left several of those involved pointing fingers of blame.   Dr Alex Lewis was blamed for his death, accused of being four hours late for the ‘rescue operation’, at which time the animal died from stress. Alex had avoided blaming others in his interviews with the press that day; instead fingers were pointed at him in the newspaper articles that followed.
The Vet’s explanation
Months earlier the farm’s management became aware of this young hippo bull being chased away from the group by the dominant male and losing weight. He was unable to access the only dam on the property and the nutrition available to him was inadequate for the stress he was experiencing, and he progressively lost condition. Last week the hippo found water and protection in the lodge swimming pool. A local game capture company offered to catch him free of charge provided that the farm obtained the necessary permits. The farm declined the offer as they wanted to be paid for the hippo and the permits were never obtained.
Alex has extensive experience in working with hippo and was called out to assess the situation. All he could see was two nostrils emerging every eight minutes.  It is hard for the public to appreciate the challenge of a wildlife vet to make an assessment of the hippo’s health from its nostrils and the history alone. A normal healthy hippo should not fall into a swimming pool. Filling the pool with sand bags to allow him to walk out was not a good option. He would still end up as a problem animal in conflict with the group. Darting him in the pool was also not an option as the tranquilizer dart could kill him due to his poor condition. Statistically 35% of healthy hippos die when tranquilized. Alex decided that the best chance Solly had would be to remove all human activity from the pool area and make it his temporary home. If he wasn't disturbed, he could settle down and get used to it. He would be fed good food until he could gain strength, rehydrate and stand a better chance of surviving translocation.
Solly began to settle down by the second day and consumed good quantities of quality food. His attitude and energy levels steadily progressed. Although the plan was working so far, there was still a possibility that he could die in the days to come as his health and wound status was still unknown.  Some emotional uninformed individuals then began adding pressure not to leave the hippo to ‘suffer’ in the pool any longer. People often get so caught up in saving the animal they forget about all it has to undergo – the dart, the transport, adjusting to his new home and not eating well for the first week there. Alex however deals with wildlife daily and he knows that rushing this process is never successful.
The farm management lost all control of the situation by allowing themselves to get bullied by the press and others. Alex was unaware that the hippo was being harassed or he would have taken drastic measures to intervene. Little did he know that he would arrive to a circus scene that had begun hours before. Over 40 people surrounded the animal trying to take pictures. Noisy machinery was brought in to drain the pool in order to get better pictures. The excuse given for this was that they drained the water in preparation of Alex’s arrival, ‘who was then late’. The tranquilization was not scheduled for that day and at no point had Alex given this instruction! He was still busy treating other animals when he realised what was happening to Solly. A representative from Nature Conservation who was on the scene, did nothing to control the crowd.
Solly started mock charging the people surrounding him, eventually slipping on his side as the water level dropped. He then kept trying to stand up on the slimy floor and kept falling, smashing against the swimming pool sides. He got weaker and weaker and died a few minutes before Alex arrived.
The Vet questions: “At what point did people think it was OK to gather so closely around a wild animal for hours, drain his water and make a lot of noise, before the vet and translocation trailer could even get there? Don't they think that a wild animal should be tranquilized before doing all these stressful things to it? How can human emotion override all common sense? How does greed for a good story take priority over saving an animal’s life? How is the veterinary profession ever to be respected when the media can't report the truth about our vets and take responsibility for their carelessness?”   Solly got chased and harassed to death by the paparazzi but the vet gets blamed!

So who do you think was at fault?  My comment:
Learn to admit your mistakes
before someone exaggerates the story!
Article references:


  1. This is so sad. I can't say definitely, but it definitely sounds like the fault does not lie with Dr. Alex. He was doing what he thought the best route to take in order to successfully save Solly. Even if Solly had died and none of the other stuff had gone on, I still wouldn't blame the Dr. How could I? I'm not a vet? All I know is that no vet wants to see his/her patient die and will do what he THINKS is right. Sometimes we do everything right, but it's just not enough.

    Ultimately, I don't think it was smart to allow people to surround a stressed and ill animal for two reasons. Animals will react unpredictably when stressed or threatened and are extremely dangerous to be around. And adding to the stress of an already ill animal is just not smart. It's common sense to not stress out an animal.

    1. I agree with you. I followd the story as it was a glimmer of hope in the typical news world of politics, war and violence. The worst part is the press never covered all the facts and also reported that the vet was at fault.
      Thanks soooo much for your comment and support xxx

  2. What a sad, sad story. First the tragedy of poor Solly, and then the travesty of blame added on top of that. Sometimes horrible things happen, and it's possible that Solly was doomed the minute he was run off from his herd, but from the human perspective, it doesn't seem the blame lies with Dr. Lewis. While it's unlikely this precise series of events will ever take place again, it seems time and energy could be better spent educating people on the beauty of wild animals in general, how to interact with them should you ever find them in your domain (or find yourself in theirs) and the importance of conservation programs.

    1. Yes it sounds like there was a small chance of a successful rescue operation if the press had not antagonised the situation and if they has followed the vet's instructions. Had to share the story. It has been on my mind. Thanks for commenting Cheri xxx