A lovely lunch, a horribly injured hippo, and beehive huts – it was hot and sunny day in Mlilwane Park today, Swaziland’s smallest wildlife sanctuary (4,560 hectares). After taking a kombi (mini van transpiration – maximum 15 people, usually with around 17 stuffed in) to the turnoff from the main highway, Camille, Haley and I walked for around 4 km to get to the park entrance. Camille and Haley are also volunteers, and like me are thirsty to explore this beautiful country.
We paid our E40 admission fee ($5) and were told we could walk to the base camp. “It’s just over the hill, at the hippo pond,” the guard told us. Another 1 km on the bright red, muddy path, passing springbok and warthogs, and we were there.
Hot, exhausted and ready to sit. Entering the camp area, we passed lovely looking beehive huts, where you can stay overnight. Peeking inside, they looked lovely, double bed, and ensuite bathroom. Very civilized.
We continued to a campfire area but were stopped in our tracks by a huge, slow hippo, which waddled in front of us. Hippos can be very dangerous. Usually during the day they keep submerged in cool ponds and rivers. Only at night do they venture out of the water to forage. If you get in the path of a hippo and the water, they will charge. Humans don’t stand a chance against this hurtling tonnage. So it was with much trepidation we skirted past this fellow to the restaurant. As we passed him, we noticed his back was badly scratched and bleeding. Ugh.
Was this a skin condition? Was he poorly cared for? I had been reading all about Marineland in Ontario and was feeling very cautious about this situation. Sitting down for lunch, we gazed at other hippos in the pond, as well as a crocodile and much noisy waterfowl. Lunch was delightful, a grilled chicken salad, and as we ate, the injured hippo came to one side of the restaurant deck. “What has happened to him?” I asked the waiter. “Oh, he was in a fight a few days ago. He was trying to protect a female and a small one from another bull. The bull tried to kill him,” the waiter told me. The hippo was staying out of the water because it irritated the gashes, he said. Nature is cruel, nothing sentimental or sappy about it. I don’t know if the environment in the reserve exacerbated the situation or not. All I can hope for is this magnificent creature will heal. I’ll definitely be going back to check.