Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Mud, Hippopotamus Sweat and Tears

What would you do for the opportunity to get your hands on a quantity of hippopotamus sweat? Probably nothing too demanding, I should imagine. In fact, if you're anything like me, you didn't know that hippos sweat at all, and, now that you do know, you will be doing your level best to forget.

Not so naturalist and hippopotamus impersonator, Dr Brady Barr. So keen is he to get his hands on a sample of hippopotamus sweat that, according to the Daily Mail, he's been trying to creep up on the poor unsuspecting creatures dressed in a hippopotamus suit.

Well, that's what Dr Barr calls it, anyway. It's more like a hollow, reinforced fake hippo on legs, coated in hippo dung to mask the scent of its human occupant - think bird watcher's hide in grey with ears on.

When the demand for hippo sweat becomes unbearable, Dr Barr has been crawling inside this trojan hippopotamus and inching it towards the watering hole where real hippos - weighing in excess of 400 stone and distinctly short on temper - hang out, in the hope of half-inching a sample of their bodily fluids.

Unfortunately, this cunning if wacky scheme has run in to a small technical hitch. Being sufficiently reinforced to protect its occupant in the event of an unexpectedly savvy but predictably enraged hippo setting about in a frenzy of sweat-bereft furry, the suit is heavy. So heavy, in fact, that, as soon as the intrepid Dr Barr got it near to the watering hole, it got stuck in the mud, leaving him stuck for six hours in temperatures of up to 100 degrees F, close enough to spit at a hippo but not quite close enough to pinch a sample of its sweat.

Now, you might, if you couldn't avoid it, spend six hours stuck inside a fake hippo, surrounded by the massive and notoriously cranky real things, covered in hippo dung to hide your scent, and frying in unreasonably high temperatures. But, having finally made good your escape, how likely would you be to do it again?

Wouldn't the very idea of a hippo suit bring you out in a cold sweat? Wouldn't phrases like "over my dead body" and "wild horses" be hurrying towards your lips? Perhaps, but Dr Barr is either made of sterner stuff or really, really likes dressing up as a hippo. He's been through this whole rigmarole no less than four times, and STILL hasn't managed to get his hands on any hippo sweat.

Of course, there is (allegedly) more to this escapade than yet another opportunity for him to get stuck in the mud. It seems that hippo sweat has useful properties as an antiseptic and sub block, which Dr Barr hopes to examine in the lab - if he can ever get his hands on some. That's as maybe, but there must surely be a better way to get hold of this stuff than fooling around in a hippo suit in the middle of Zambia's South Luangwa National Park.

Still, it's not for us to tell Dr Barr how to do his job - you shouldn't knock something until you've tried it, and how often do YOU wake up with a sudden urge to relieve a hippo of a sweat sample? Somehow, I suspect Dr Barr's job will be secure for some time to come.

Billy Seggars.

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