Any trip on the lower Zambezi and house-boating on Kariba is full of wonderful wildlife and adventure highlights. Generations of Shearwater canoe and rafting guides have plied their trade down the Zambezi River and its tributaries. Sometimes mysterious, always magnificent and occasionally menacing we believed over 32 years the river had shared with us all of its secrets.
But a mythical pink hippo along with its elephant brethren is something we believed only really existed in the realm of fantasy within the furtive minds of guides that were either too gullible for their own good, or had been munching on magic mushrooms. Yet the compulsion to continue those same traditions of the Shearwater veterans seeking to chart new territories and experiences, led me to investigate yet another such fanciful claim.
As so often happens, it was an unlikely occasion that presented the spectre of opportunity. We were at the tail end of what had been a fantastic trip – but without any proverbial Darwinian breakthroughs or discoveries, and in fact were hoping to catch the final stages of that most secular of attractions: the soccer world cup. This illusive sporting quarry in its own right led us down the far reaches of the Gache Gache River to the eponymous lodge owned by Ray Townsend (pictured).
I must confess I thought Ray was entering dangerous territory when after clanking a couple of glasses of fine malt whiskey – he revealed the existence of the fabled pink hippo, and claimed knowledge of the location of this mythical creature. So it was with a mixture of slight cynicism but enough curiosity that ensured I was up the following morning to embark upon a quest for this wildlife holy grail. An outboard was readied and primed and we set off. We were soon cruising through inlets absolutely choking with enormous crocodiles – glimpsing them through the corner of one’s eye slithering into the water certainly led to some involuntary buttock clenching.. But it was as if these menacing reptiles where somehow guardian to hitherto undiscovered treasure somewhere nearby.
Then sure enough – the Eureka moment: there on the banks ruminating with the rest of the bloat was a truly rare wildlife gem – A 15 month old Pink hippo. It was utterly spellbinding. Never in all my blessed years of being privileged to witness so much of Africa’s wild munificence had I been prepared for the exquisite rarity of a baby albino hippopotamus. Even rarer in the modern world -he seemed totally unaffected by his celebrity status, and the whole family seemed as close knit as any.
It is entirely fitting that the exceptionally dedicated Ray Townsend is the gatekeeper to this phenomenon, ensuring it remains under his ever watchful eye.
Shearwater would like to thank Ray for his amazing hospitality and to commend him for his tireless anti-poaching campaign, which has literally revitalised this Kariba tributary into a fishing, bird and wildlife haven.
His efforts need support and recognition particularly as he is now the guardian of one of the rarest big game wildlife specimens ever encountered. We will keep you updated on the how – ‘Ermintrude’ fares, let’s all wish her/him a long peaceful life.
There are many reasons to visit Lake Kariba but none so compelling as the lifetime opportunity to spot the Pink Hippo of Gache Gache!
P.S. Gache Gache Lodge have named this little hippo "Chipolata"!