If you follow Zululand Rhino Orphanage on Instagram, you already know of Charlie and Moomin – two of the cutest hippos with the sweetest love story. They both had a rough start in life… Charlie was abandoned when he was only two days old, left to fend for himself, completely vulnerable to predators. And Moomin was only three months old when rangers found her huddled next to the body of her dead mother.

Before Charlie and Moomin met, neither of them had spent much time with other hippos. Charlie had spent most of his life with people and rhinos, while Moomin’s best friend was Piet the sheep. But when the two hippos met, they fell madly and deeply in love.

With Charlie living at a rhino orphanage, and Moomin living on a game reserve, both were lonely little hippos, without another of their kind to keep them company. But a plan was made, and Moomin moved to join Charlie.

“I knew Charlie needed a female of his own species to ever stand a chance of being released back into the wild, but I honestly had no idea if Charlie and Moo would like each other. It was a huge risk, but one we had to take.” – Megan Lategan, manager at Zululand Rhino Orphanage

The orphanage built a small fenced pen for Moomin and Piet inside Charlie’s boma so that they could get used to each other slowly. Moomin and Charlie immediately started sniffing each other through the fence and they snorted at each other, calling loudly in their hippo voices every now and then. After two days of them ‘chatting’ through the fence, it was decided that Moomin and Piet could move in with Charlie.”

But when the moment finally came for the hippos to meet face-to-face, Charlie seemed more interested in Piet. He sniffed Piet and chased him around the boma with Moomin in tow. Moomin would sneak up to Charlie and sniff him from behind in her shy manner. It was clear that in order for Charlie and Moomin to bond, Piet needed to be removed from the equation. But separating Moomin and Piet was going to be tricky – the pair hadn’t spent a moment apart for months.

“The next day we kept Moomin busy and coaxed Piet out with some grass, and we moved him to a boma nearby. When Moomin realised he was gone, she did a 360-degree turn around the boma searching for her friend. Piet was gone but Charlie was there. Within minutes she latched onto Charlie and they started getting to know each other.”

A friendship between Charlie and Moomin immediately started to bloom. They very quickly formed a bond and spent their time together in the water or taking naps. They are now inseparable, and Charlie is extremely protective over ‘Moo’, as Moomin is affectionately known. If Moo is unsure, she hides behind Charlie with her head tucked under his bottom.

Moomin has also taught Charlie a lot about being a hippo. Charlie had never been with another hippo his whole life – only rhinos, and Moo taught him what it is like to be a hippo. One important thing she taught Charlie is how to enjoy water.

“Before Moo arrived, we would have a hard time getting Charlie to spend time in his water hole. Now Charlie and Moo spend about 70 percent of their day in the water.”

She also taught Charlie how to drink properly.

“Charlie would always ‘bite’ the water, then throw his head back to swallow. He now puts his lips in the water and slurps as hippos normally do.”

Not only do Charlie and Moomin spend their time together, they also constantly talk.

 “They chat all day. Charlie calls with a loud, deep voice and Moo calls after him with a gentle, softer voice. It’s too precious.”

When Charlie and Moomin are old enough, they’ll be released back into the wild. But no matter what happens, they will always have each other. To find out how you can help Charlie and Moomin return to the wild, send us an email.

You can read the full story here: Cutest Baby Hippos Meet And Instantly Fall In Love

Phinda Elephant immobilization

This article is part of a series of journal entries from the Elephant Ignite Expedition, 2016. 

DAY 2: The following morning was an early start at 06h30. Simon had arranged for the EIE crew to be involved in an elephant immobilisation, which was hugely exciting for all of us. I remember telling Natalie Dumbrill, an EIE crew member from the UK, that it wasn’t normal to be a part of an immobilisation before you even saw an Impala. This was her first trip to Africa and it had already been a mind-blowing experience for her. The vet, Mike Toft, briefed the crew on what was happening, why it was happening, and how to act. You could have heard a pin drop.

The reason for the immobilisation was to take blood from a Cow as part of their Elephant Contraception Programme. Mike and the aircrew set off in the helicopter to find her, and the rest of the ground crew jumped in the back of the Phinda vehicle and sped along the bumpy roads, hanging on for dear life to get to where they’d found and darted her.  She went down effortlessly, and Dr. Toft and the Phinda crew immediately jumped to work, measuring her padded feet (which elephants use to communicate over great distances by subsonic vibrations), taking blood samples for DNA, and measuring her tusks.

Up close with an elephant

It was so surreal, as well as being my first experience of being up so close to an elephant. Let’s not forget that these animals are wild and a female cow can weight up to 4 tonnes. She was still quite young and wasn’t yet fully grown. As soon as all the work had been done, Dr. Toft ushered us back to our vehicle so that he could administer the antidote to wake her up. The safety of the elephants is always a priority and Phinda run a very slick operation in making sure that the elephant is under as little stress as possible.

It was incredible to be able to touch her leathery skin, feel her glassy teeth, smell her warm breath, and hear her snore and she lay there on the ground while being measured and assessed so that the team could gather data to learn more about her.

After a quick helicopter flip, we drove to another section of the Game Reserve where we watched the team take off the foot collar of a six-year-old Black Rhino that was going to be moved to another location. Black Rhinos are angry animals, and he went down with a fight. After taking the collar off, and treating a few wounds that occurred during the immobilisation, he was back on track. Taking his anger out on every poor sapling and bush that was in his way, he eventually trotted off and disappeared into the thick bush.

Our first border crossing into Swaziland

Charlie then gave the EIE crew a quick lesson in how to fix a tyre puncture with a puncture repair kit, as well as how to change a tyre. After the crash course, we were confident that we knew what to do! We were on our way again – towards the Swaziland border post of Golela. The town of Golela is situated on the southern border with Swaziland, 45km from Pongola. Formerly spelt Gollel, the name is of Swazi origin, said to mean ‘place of game’. This was a hunting ground of the Nyawo tribe in former times and was also the place where the Swazi and Zulu kings use to meet to have an ‘indaba’.

We stayed at  Brown’s Tented Camp in Royal Jozini Big Six Estate that night, which is a rustic campsite located in the foothills of the Lubombo mountains and overlooks the northern part of Jozini Dam. The terrain was exceptionally dry and you could see the drought was most definitely taking effect on the animals and vegetation. Digs Pascoe from Space for Elephants came to chat to the crew, and Jay and Ruth (who run the camp) joined us for dinner. The night was FREEZING, and the air was filled with the calls of Fiery-necked Nightjars, the high pitched cry of a Black-backed Jackal, and the faint grunting of a hippo in the distance.