GUWAHATI, July 30 - An American �couple� had arrived here in 1974. For the last 43 years, they have made Assam their home and the second generation of the family is now proving to be the centre of attraction.
Meet �Raja� the hippopotamus, who was brought to the Assam State Zoo from the Southwitch Birds and Animals Inc in Blackstone, US, back in 1974, when he was just one year old. He was accompanied by his would-be spouse �Rani�, who was of the same age. They had a co-traveller in Mohan, an African rhino, who died of old age recently at the State Zoo.
Rani had passed away in 2014, leaving behind Raja and their toddlers �Amu� and �Runu�.
�Raja is probably the oldest mammal in the Zoo at present and he is very special. We have six hippos in the Zoo at the moment � Raja and his five children,� Zoo Ranger Mukul Tamuly said, adding that the animals are the prime attractions for the visitors. Raja had fathered 10 babies � two of them died, while three were exchanged with other zoos.
Hippopotamus is an amphibious species, which spends the day in water and emerges at night to feed. The hippopotamus uses the water only as a retreat and it does not eat aquatic vegetation to any extent.
There are clear regional differences in population size and distribution. Eastern African countries (including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Zambia) form the conservation stronghold for this species and are where the largest numbers of Common Hippos are found. Although common hippos are found in many West African nations, the overall population sizes tend to be much smaller, either because of less available habitat or the higher density of human populations. Populations appear to be decreasing in many countries. The largest populations are found in East Africa.
While the lifespan of hippopotamus is between 45 to 50 years, despite having crossed 44, Raja has not shown any major signs of ageing.
�His physiological signs are normal. Teeth are intact. He is feeding normally, although he has slowed down than before,� Dr Panchami Sharma of the Zoo hospital said.
Animal keeper Padma Boro has been looking after Raja and his family since 2002.
�Normally hippos are known to be ferocious... but Raja and his children are very quiet. The Zoo authorities wanted to shift me but I insisted that I would remain with them,� Boro, who is emotionally attached to the animals, said.
�Raja is very disciplined...I have had absolutely no problems with either him or Rani who died a few years ago. You call him, he will come ...you ask him to go, he will obey. I had fed Raja and Rani like kids,� Boro added. Boro religiously cleans the cells of the hippos every day.
There are three enclosures for the six hippos, and it needs around three days to clean each enclosure and fill it with water.
There are 1,123 inmates in the State Zoo at present.