For a while, it seemed that the most popular personality in Switzerland, Farasi the baby hippo – who actually beat out tennis star Roger Federer to be named 2008 “Swiss of the Year” – would be killed and fed to the big cats that also live in the Basel Zoo. But time, and a wave of public support that has captured Swiss headlines, seems to be on Farasi’s side.
“We’re confident we’ll find a place for him,” zoo spokesperson Tanja Dietrich says of efforts to transfer the baby to another zoo. But, she warns, “if we don’t find a good place, he might be killed and eaten by other animals in the zoo.”
“Euthanasia is the final option after all else has failed,”
For now, Farasi is safe. The young hippo calf, which was born in November, has another year before it will need a new home. In the meantime, he still needs his mother’s milk to grow and thrive. But hippo herds can have just one male at a time and, at that point, there is a real danger that Farasi and his father, Wilhelm, will clash.
But finding Farasi a new home and preventing a future as cat food might prove difficult.
“It’s especially difficult to find a home for a male hippo because you can only have one per zoo,” Christian Wenker, the Basel zoo’s chief veterinarian, warned the Wall Street Journal. Since a hippopotamus typically lives to the age of 50 or more, vacancies can be rare.
Even female hippos can be difficult to place, despite there being room for more of them in a zoo’s herd. In 2002, an older sister of Farasi’s was adopted by a zoo in Dublin, Ireland – but only because another hippo at the zoo died after choking on a tennis ball which someone had thrown into its pen.
Farasi captured Switzerland’s attention when cute pictures were released after his birth. But, within weeks, word spread of his possible fate and a resulting outrage spread.
“Little Farasi is going to die,” screamed the headline in 20 Minuten, Switzerland’s most widely-circulated newspaper. “Help! Who will rescue me?” cried the tabloid newspaper Blick . A “Save Farasi” Facebook group grew to 15,000 members.
The policy of feeding some animals to others may seem cruel, but it is standard procedure at zoos.
“Animals die in nature,” Gerald Dick, director of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums in Bern, Switzerland reports. Zoo officials say that, inevitably, some animals in captivity die as well – including those that are euthanized each year. When that happens, Dick says, “it would be crazy to throw away the meat.”
“People want zoos to be this sacred place where nothing bad ever happens,” says Robert Zingg, chief curator of Zurich Zoo. “But it’s not like that.”
Justin Hane, “Surplus baby hippo could end up as animal food”, swissinfo.ch
John W. Miller, “Swiss Zoo Has One Too Many Hippos”, Wall Street Journal
“Celebrity hippo calf won’t be fed to zoo’s tigers”, MSNBC.com