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Monday, 15 June 2009

Paris hippos refuse to move

Transporting hippos can't be the easiest job in the world. Just ask officials at Vincennes zoo in the east of the French capital.

They've had one heck of a time this past weekend trying to move Pélagie and her other half, Rodolphe.

So much so that they've abandoned plans for the moment and will try again in the autumn.

The reason the two were supposed to be on the move is that the zoo is closing down for a complete makeover.

Opened in 1934, it was one of the first zoos not to keep animals in cages, but instead had them in enclosures allowing visitors to get as close to them as was safely possible.

Its famous Grand Rocher (Big Rock) became something of a symbol, and it also built up a reputation over the years for the success it had in breeding elephants and giraffes in captivity.

But the years had taken their toll and by 2004 it was clear that something needed to be done when staff demonstrated at the deteriorating conditions.

And so began plans for its complete renovation, funded with both public and private money, which would mean of course closing its doors to the public and finding new homes for the animals while the work was in progress.

At the end of November 2008 it gave visitors one last chance to say "au revoir" to the residents and now for most of them it's their turn to say goodbye to the zoo as they are heading off to warmer climes and a new permanent home in Algeria.

Only the 30 or so baboons will still have to put up with European weather as they're bound for Edinburgh in Scotland.

Not going anywhere though will be the 15 giraffes, which the zoo wants to keep together, and which would also be difficult to transport.

"It's an unusually large number and normally there are just two or three to each zoo," said the head keeper Fabrice Bernard.

"They're remaining because we don't want to break up the social structure of the group," he added.

Also staying put, albeit only temporarily, are of course Pélagie and Rodolphe - for "bad behaviour" if you will.

When it came time to load all the animals due to move this weekend the zoo decided not to anaesthetise any of them.

"Asleep, they would have weighed much more to transport," said the zoo's director, Christine Morrier.

"Then of course there's always a risk involved when they come around," she added.

And not drugging them is where the staff's problems started as far as the two hippos were concerned.

Even though they had apparently undergone several weeks of "training" and getting used to going inside the transportation crates, as soon as the door was closed Pélagie started panicking and Rudolphe soon followed suit.

"They could have hurt themselves or broken out of their crates and the whole trip could have become dangerous, " said Morrier, perhaps somewhat stating the obvious.

So all attempts to move the two were abandoned and for now they're staying exactly where they are.

Staff will have another try at moving the two recalcitrant herbivores in the autumn.

Presumably there'll be some intensive crate-training sessions between now and then.

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