I recently made a donation to a great cause, that enabled my husband to pet and feed a hippo (a dream come true for him and a great Valentine's Day gift from me). National Geographic calls hippos the most dangerous mammals in Africa, so while many people find hippos super cool, the opportunity to interact with them is pretty rare. This video shows a segment of this incredible experience and more information follows.
The American Association of Zoo Keepers (association for animal care professionals) Topeka Chapter is actually helping animals by selling hippo kisses and other pieces of animal artwork. AAZK Topeka set up an Etsy page and they use the sales proceeds to make donations to animal conservation efforts and also buy enrichment and other items for the animals in their care. Specifically, all the funds from hippo encounters are going to the African Painted Dogs Research Trust (African wild dogs are a very social endangered species that you should learn more about).
Why I bought my husband a hippo valentine: It started with a kiss... a hippo kiss.
I worked with animals professionally for about two decades, but dated guys who mostly "tolerated" animals. If you love fur babies, a relationship with someone who can't handle the occasional pet hair on your clothes probably won't work. When I first met Tim (my husband), I immediately fell for his heart, his passion to make a difference in the world, and his love for animals. Hippos are his favorite animal. He said it started with Noah's Ark stories as a kid, and the affinity just stuck.
I worked with animals for so long and NEVER had a guy actually be excited about animal work so when I learned of his dream to feed a full grown hippo... Challenge Accepted!
Five months into dating, I bought Tim a hippo kiss (an imprint of hippo "lips" on canvas) for Valentine's Day from the AAZK Topkea Etsy page. "Tank" (a.k.a. "Vision") is a 6-year-old hippo at Topeka Zoo. Tank was born at Topeka Zoo and since he was a calf, the keepers have been able to work closely with him (which is a huge help in providing veterinary care to a potentially lethal animal). I bought a Tank kiss in Tim's favorite color and his face just lit up when he realized what it was. A year after the hippo Valentine, I surprised Tim (who recently went from boyfriend to husband) with a hippo Meet & Greet. My husband says it was one of the best days of his life!
In Defense of Zoos
I'm sure some people won't see a cool experience and will just "poo poo" a zoo, but contrary to what standardized testing teaches, most things in life are on a continuum rather than a black & white or yes/no answers. For example, stealing is wrong, but most people would say it's okay to pick fruit from a tree and give it to a starving child. When it comes to animals, it would be wonderful if all animals could live free and wild, but we live in an imperfect world where habitats are being destroyed and animals are senselessly killed for sport. Zoos provide valuable education and a way to connect people with animals that they may not otherwise care about.
Accredited zoos provide a standard of care for their animals and the majority participate in international conservation efforts. Sometimes animals are part of breeding and release programs and sometimes they are animals that are injured so they would not survive on their own in the wild.
Perfection does not exist. I have seen zoo exhibits that I feel are too small and not all facilities have access to the same resources. I do, however recognize and support people who care about making the world a better place and take concrete steps to take action for a cause. The keepers at Topkea Zoo are taking action... that's worthy of recognition. They love Tank. They do everything they can to make him happy and they're trying to help wild dogs in Africa too.
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Also check out: Dating with Pets: Embrace Your Wild Side! Everyone should fall for an animal lover.