Saturday, July 10, 2004

La Vendée, France--La Flèche, France-- La Vendée, France—Day 161

Today we woke up and headed right back to La Flèche again. I was keeping my fingers crossed on the way back to the zoo that everything was going to turn out ok at the zoo but of course I was thinking, well, what if they let Masaë out again today instead of Prosper and Elisabeth just by accident or something? What would we do then?
We made it back before the zoo even opened and waited with several other families before being let in. We told the girl working at the ticket counter that we were here to see Sandrine and she said that she was expecting us and to wait for Sandrine to come just inside the gates. So while Mom and Peter waited for Sandrine, I walked back towards the hippos (it was about 9:50am and since I knew that feeding time started at 10am I didn’t want to miss any of it!).  I walked up to the hippos and found one hippo sitting in the water. Oh no—could this be Masaë? Where was the baby?
And then I saw just about the CUTEST thing I have seen in a really long time.
Just when I started worry about where the baby hippo was, he pops his head out of the water only to disappear quickly again. I laughed and then realized that while the mother hippo can stand on the bottom, the baby hippo surely can’t so it would sort of bob up for a second, then disappear again to the bottom.  I called Elisabeth over and she came and opened her mouth (boy I am getting good at this!) and then Prosper sticks his head up again and starts climbing onto Elisabeth’s back.  After quite a struggle not to slip off, he wiggled his way onto her back and I just started laughing. It was so cute and I was so happy that we had decided to come back just to see this. While Elisabeth was opening her mouth for food, Prosper just rested his head down on Elisabeth almost as if to rest after his long struggle to get on top of her. She moved around a bit and Prosper just rode along and it was so funny and so extremely endearing. I snapped away and at this point a group had gathered around to see the feeding and Mom, Peter and Sandrine showed up, with Sandrine carrying a big bucket of vegetables to throw to them.
So she threw them in while the loudspeaker came on again and we were all just delighted. She even let me throw some in (my first hippo feeding!).  Apparently Elisabeth has to chew up the food for Prosper to eat since he was so small that his teeth were JUST started to show and he would open his mouth a bit and would hardly be able to chew up all of these hard foods. Sometimes he would go for some of the vegetables and apples that didn’t make it into Elisabeth’s’ mouth but this meant that he would have to reach over which would disrupt his balance and he fell off a few times and wasn’t able to get back up in the same way that he did for me when I first showed up. 
So cute.
So after the public feeding time was over and when Elisabeth and Prosper got out of the water, she took the three of us back around to a side entrance where she tossed in hay and hand fed Prosper a few lettuces while we asked questions about them (well, more like Peter talked to Sandrine about the hippos and then translated it to me).  Turns out that Elisabeth was originally from the Prague Zoo, which was exciting since I’ve been there, and that on the night that Prosper was born, a disgruntled ex-employee from the zoo came in and let all three of them (Elizabeth, Masaë and Prosper) all out into the outdoor enclosure, which is a horrible thing to do since hippos are so territorial.  Apparently Elisabeth attacked Masaë and it was quite the ordeal (the ex-employee is now on trial for it all!) and they have yet to attempt to reunite all three since then.
We talked with Sandrine for a while and I got some great pictures, but none of which could top Prosper sitting on Elisabeth’s back. Turned out that coming back today was well worth it.  We thanked Sandrine and she promised to send us a CD with photos of Prosper’s birth and she showed us out of the zoo.
We then drove back to the house all feeling very lucky that we had met Sandrine and that she was so willing to help with the project.  It really makes a difference when you meet a zookeeper who not only really wants to help you, but whose love for the animals is so genuine.         
(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith.  All Rights Reserved.