Hippo ending for sanctuary's odd couple

The unlikely couple of a baby hippo and a 130-year-old tortoise are still together, a year after the hippo was separated from its family in Kenya by last year’s Indian Ocean tsunami.

The relationship between Owen the two-year-old hippopotamus and Mzee the giant tortoise surprised conservation workers and made international headlines.

Owen was living with his family on the Sabaki River when massive waves from the Indian Ocean tsunami reached the East African coast. He was washed into the ocean and stranded on a reef.

Residents of Malindi, a small coastal town, used fishing nets to catch him. He was then taken to the Haller Park sanctuary, where he met Mzee and adopted him as a surrogate parent. Owen may have been attracted by Mzee’s round shape and grey colour that are somewhat similar to that of an adult hippopotamus.

The tortoise at first resisted. But the persistent Owen kept following him around the park, into the pool and trying to sleep next to him.

Mzee relented after several days. As the bond grew, the tortoise even returned signs of affection. They are now inseparable.

Conservation workers plan to introduce Owen to a 13-year-old female hippo named Cleo early next year, hoping to see the two develop a strong relationship. The female hippo has lived without companionship from her species for more than a decade.

The delicate process will begin with getting the two animals to meet and get used to each other’s smell before they moving them into a larger enclosure – and tortoise comes too.

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