Huberta the Hippo

Huberta the Hippo

Huberta was a hippo that caught the travelling bug and wandered straight into the hearts of the South African public. It's not known what sparked her wanderlust, but in November 1928 she left her lagoon in Zululand to begin a three-year trek southwards.

Newspapers around South Africa first picked up on Huberta's story when a party of workers came upon her as she munched her way through a sugar cane field on the 22nd of November 1928. Unaware that she was actually a lady, the papers dubbed her "Hubert the Hippo". People flocked to see her at her new residence near the north coast railway line, but when the Johannesburg Zoo tried to catch her, she made a run for it. She was pursued from one river to the next, leaving a trail of mud spattered zoo men, camera crews, reporters and professional hunters in her wake. The public loved hearing news of her latest escapades and they quickly fell in love with her. The Natal Provincial Council went so far as to proclaim her "Royal Game", and the hunters were forced to call it a day.

Over the next three years, Huberta travelled 1600 kilometres southwards. She crossed roads, rivers, fields, golf courses and railway lines, made unexpected appearances in towns and cities, munched her way through gardens and took up residence in large pools and rivers. Her wandering spirit would always get the better of her, and before long, she would be off on another adventure. All the while, amassing a steadily growing fan base.

Probably her most famous caper was when she appeared on the veranda at the Durban Country Club, causing panic and confusion amongst the April Fools Day partygoers. She then charged across the golf course and on into the city, where she was later found in the doorway of a chemist's shop in West Street.

She was deified by the Indian population who beat drums, burned incense and sacrificed a goat in her honour, she spent so much time in sacred Zulu pools that the Zulus believed her to have some connection to the Great King Shaka, while the Pondo people believed her to be a reincarnation of a famous witchdoctor.

She continued south along the Wild Coast, with protracted stays in the Mzimvuba and Kei Rivers, before reaching East London in March 1931. Her luck finally ran out a month later. Three farmers shot her as she swam in the Keiskamma River. They claimed not to have known of her protected status and the court fined them 25 Pounds each, a substantial sum in those days.

Huberta was recovered from the river and she is now on display at the Museum in King Williams Town.