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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

A few weeks back, I mentioned that it’s been a year since the Elephant Ignite Expedition – a year since we left South Africa, turned the key in the ignition, and pointed our Avis Safari 4×4 vehicles (aptly named Courage, Hope and Love) north, for a life-changing adventure… I haven’t had the courage (until now) to put our journey into writing – it was such an intense, personal experience for me. I still sometimes feel like it was all a dream! Today is the first of many journal entries about the expedition – I want to share the incredible work that we did, as well as the wonderful organisations and projects that opened our eyes, and the brave unsung heroes we met along the way. So here we go…

Departure Day: Tuesday 9th August 2016 (Women’s Day)

The line of vehicles and Harley Davidsons snaked their way towards Ballito on the M4 road…such an emotional sight. They gave us a final wave and a hoot and then veered off in another direction. Their short escorted trip had ended and ours was about to start. We were on our own. The drive to Thula Thula went quite quickly and as you can imagine, there was quite a lot of banter on the radio – going over the day’s proceedings, some laughter, and so much excitement in the air. Yolande Kruger and Shannon Saunders were driving with me in the front. And we were taking turns to drive as reporters kept calling for last-minute comments about our journey.

The drive to Thula Thula took about two and a half hours. Once we arrived, we went straight to the Rhino Orphanage (which was sadly attacked earlier this year and has since closed down). We met with the team that was in charge of looking after these tiny orphans – a heartbreaking job and a reality-check because our wildlife is constantly in danger due to poaching. It was also a strong reminder of why we needed to go out there into Africa in the first place, and support these organisations that are protecting our wildlife.

Afterwards, Francoise Malby Anthony (wife of the late Lawrence Anthony ) put on a spread for lunch (even the monkeys were trying to get at the food) and arranged for a game drive to go and see “Lawrence’s elephants”. As you can imagine, Nana, Frankie, Mandla and the rest of the herd put on such a great performance. It was like they knew what we were doing and had to come and wish us a safe journey. The energy that surrounded us was tangible. We did a few interviews with the 50/50 team under the acacia trees and then departed for Phinda Game Reserve, where we were spending our first night at Bayete Camp.

We arrived after dark…

On the dust road to Phinda, we had lost the 50/50 crew, so I had to go and find them on the road to Sodwana. We eventually found them and drove them back to where we were setting up camp. Camp setup was a chore that we would have to do for the next 100 days. It was our first night of sleeping in our vehicles, so it took a while for everyone to set up their beds.

Afterwards, we sat around the fire and chatted to David Bozas, Simon Naylor (Phinda Farm Manager), Cilla Pickering (Elephant Researcher) and Charlie Thompson (Phinda workshop). It was so interesting listening to David telling his stories of the elephant encounters he’d experienced alongside Lawrence Anthony. The sparks from the fire floated upwards like dancing fireflies and the stars flickered in the night sky. This was the start of our daily experiences in  Africa.  Ildiko Bischott, our EIE crew member from Netherlands, celebrated her birthday in true African style with a fine feast, and then we all settled into our “beds” for the night with full stomachs and happy hearts.