Toby Ninan retired from Delhi Zoo about two years back. With his varied experiences with the wild animals in
the zoo, he is the right person to direct your queries to. Hear what Ninan has to say about his life and chosen career!
There were far too many bachelor boys around. This was very disturbing. My job was there to see that the tribe increased and it applied to all animals including the Hippo.
But it was slightly difficult to do that with only Mani the male 'Ippoppo' from Trivandrum among us. 'Ippoppo' was my son's name for the Hippo and he would drag me around to see his friend every day without fail.
Our prayers for daily bread were not unheeded but after long last we were indeed very excited to be told that a brand new bride would arrive from Japan soon. Her home was
scrubbed clean and her own private swimming pool was emptied out, cleaned and all the "furniture" set in order.
We left for Calcutta and soon 'Kaaba' made her appearance on board the Japanese vessel in the Calcutta docks. She was made comfortable in a huge iron crate with a strong
wooden floor and as I went on board to receive and welcome her to India she deigned to let me scratch her neck. The captain entertained me lavishly so much so that I thought that I would have to be lowered onto the dock instead of Kaaba via the crane. Well
this was not to be and finally the crate with Hippo and her huge drinking bowl was slowly lowered on to the wharf. All went well except when the crate was a foot from the concrete wharf. Without warning the steel wire rope holding up the crate cracked and
with an ominous thud Kaaba and her temporary home crashed down to terra firma.
This literally shook us all up and we all rushed to see whether madame was any worse for her resounding entry into our great land! Everything was well and although she was
shaken up she soon got up and stirred herself around to show that she was none the worse for the crash. The Captain's faced white as chalk and I thought I saw his hand stealing towards his sword.
All however was well and there was no human bloodshed and the nearest was the oozing of the red liquid from the Hippo's skin which has the function of keeping her real cool.
Phone calls went to the Railway Ministry to ensure that Kaaba had a comfortable train journey. Kaaba and crate were loaded aboard an eight wheeler wagon which was attached
to the Howrah Express bound for Delhi.
Thanks to all the telephone calls, we were treated to what I called "the cooling machine" at every station that the train touched.
The "machine" consisted of 40-50 red coated coolies armed with fire buckets full of cool water and as soon as the door to Kaaba's cabin was opened and word given they would
throw the water in, dousing her completely. I nearly drowned on a pair of swimming trunks in the process.
One of the requirements of transporting animals, especially huge herbivores is that plenty of food has to be procured for breakfast, lunch and dinner all rolled into one
continuous eating process. All though we had bales of hay on board, madame seemed to have had enough and wanted or rather showed preference for more sweeter food. I understood that far too well as I have a very very sweet tooth. Well, all the bananas and water
melons on the station were procured to cater to "Her Sweetness" and these were dispatched with great speed into her innards. This did cause great glee among the fruit vendors.
We got a royal reception at Delhi Station and soon Kaaba and her home were taken over by the hugely muscled "block and tackle' crew who transported her on-of all the vehicles-
a bullock cart, to be released in her enclosure at the Zoo.
Kaaba was separated from Mani by only a wooden sliding door. Though Mani danced around , threw up huge splashes of water and grunted and called to her, we did not put them
together fearing violent expressions of passion. They banged at the door from either side and kissed passionately over the door but none of this melted my heart!
Finally in a week's time Kaaba came into heat and the calls and grunts became music to our ears. In the presence of a large number of keepers armed with crackers and sticks
she was let into Mani's enclosure which had a much larger pool. All went well and though Mani had to endure a number of wicked gashes( love bites of the Hippo variety) they certainly proved to be a couple who lived happily ever after- producing male babies
year after year - an effect I
believe of the Indian psyche!