Jessica: The hippo in the house
By Emma Hurd
Updated: 11:57, Friday June 29, 2007
Jessica weighs almost a ton and enjoys sweet coffee and a massage before she goes to bed. She's a hippo with a big identity crisis - she thinks she's a family pet.
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Tonie Joubert, a retired game warden from Hoedspruit in South Africa, found her washed up on his land by flood water when she was just a day old.
He hand raised her, fully expecting her to return to the wild as soon as she was old enough. That was seven years ago and Jessica has never left.
"I don't know whether she thinks I'm a hippo or she thinks she's a human," Tonie explained as he deposited another fistful of sweet potato inside Jessica's gaping mouth.
"But we have the most fantastic bond." When Tonie calls her name, Jessica honks out her own greeting in return.
His wife, Shirley, is equally smitten. "I can't imagine life without her. She's the child I never had," she said.
Jessica certainly seems to believe she's part of the family and regularly forces her way into the house.
"We try to keep the door closed, but she pulls down the handle and lets herself in," Shirley told me.
"She's already broken a bed and a sofa, and it can be very messy because she's not house trained."
Jessica's favourite room is the kitchen, where she rests her huge snout on the counter and flips open her jaws at the first hint of food.
Eating is a big part of Jessica's routine. She consumes a tenth of her body weight every day.
There's sweet coffee in the morning and evening, sweet potatoes for breakfast, lunch and supper, and regular snacks of dog biscuits which she shares with the Jouberts' seven English bull terriers.
There used to be nine dogs but two were eaten - by crocodiles not Jessica.
In between meals Jessica wallows in the river which runs through the Jouberts' land and she often swims with a pod of wild hippos who are regular visitors. She is free to leave but chooses to stay.
Hippos kill more people than any other mammal in Africa and yet Jessica, despite her vast bulk and big teeth, seems anything but deadly.
At night she settles down on the veranda beneath a pink duvet and Shirley, a former beauty therapist, gives her a massage before Jessica drifts off to sleep.