From Hamburg to Zambezi

There’s long been an association with the Memphis Zoo and hippopotami. In fact, 2014 marked the 100-year anniversary of having hippos at the Memphis Zoo. But it’s been no short journey in raising hippos and working toward their new home. 

In 1914, Memphian Henry Loeb joined with Memphis school children to raise $4,000 to bring two hippopotami to the Memphis Zoo. The pair of hippos, later named "Venus" and "Adonis" by contest winners, were flown over from Hamburg, Germany. The pair were prolific and had 16 calves.

Venus and Adonis

Local residents were immediately infatuated by the creatures and lined up to behold their impressive forms within the temporary hippo house – Galloway Hall. An impressive, permanent home was constructed to display these wonders for the next 40 years. The beautiful white-marble, windowed structure and accompanying pool was a great source of pride for the Zoo. However, over time, the remarkable original structure fell into disrepair and required replacement. The brick structure you saw until recently was constructed in 1955, and housed the hippos until they moved to Zambezi earlier this year. 

Original Hippo House

Venus passed away in 1955, and Zoo management went about acquiring a new mate for Adonis. Because Adonis himself was getting older, it was decided that a young male would also be acquired. 

In June, 1957, a young pair was shipped out of Kenya, Africa. When they arrived, Zoo staff were surprised to learn that instead of a male and female, as previously promised, the Memphis Zoo was now a proud owner of two young females. One female was moved into the Hippo House, was named Josephine, and became a mate to Adonis (and grandmother to current hippo, “Splish”), while the other female was transferred via railcar to Evansville, Indiana. 

Due to the time of year, and the sea conditions, Zoo staff decided to wait until the next year to again try for a young, male hippo. In April 1957, a week before the hippo was supposed to ship via freight, Raymond Gray, the Superintendent of the Zoo, received a “status update” of the animal via telegram, letting him know that the “little thousand pounder was all set to leave.”Gray quickly realized that the animal about to be shipped was not a juvenile, male hippopotamus, but rather a wild pig. The shipment was called off. 

The young male was set to leave Mombasa, Kenya in May 1957. The Commercial Appeal reported on June 23, 1957 that “after many months it was announced the hippo finally would leave Africa on a certain ship. Well, he missed [the May departure.]” He did, however, get on the boat leaving in June. 

While mid-crossing, the male got chilly one night. He escaped his wooden crate on deck, and meandered his way through the ship’s passageways. Fast thinking crew members herded him to the ship’s recreation room, where he lived until they finally docked in Houston in July. 

The male, named “Uebi,” later went on to be the mate of our beloved “Julie,” and was the father of Splish and her twin, “Splash,” who were born on Christmas Day 1988. When then-zookeeper (now Assistant Curator) Houston Winbigler was interviewed by The Commercial Appeal on December 28, 1988, he said, “We’d like to keep some of that lineage, so that in the year 2014, we’ll still have descendants of the original pair.” 

Julie, Splish and Splash

We are pleased to report that today, in 2016, we do still have descendants of the original pair who flew over from Hamburg, Germany. It’s been a long road (or sea…) but, in 2016, our hippos finally have an all-new home in the Zambezi River Hippo Camp.