A baby hippopotamus, swept into the Indian Ocean by the tsunami, is finally coming out of his shell thanks to the love of a 120-year-old tortoise.
Owen, a 300kg, one-year-old hippo, was swept down the Sabaki River, into the ocean and then back to shore when the giant waves struck the Kenyan coast. The dehydrated hippo was found by wildlife rangers and taken to the Haller Park animal facility in the port city of Mombasa.
Pining for his lost mother, Owen quickly befriended a giant male Aldabran tortoise named Mzee - Swahili for "old man".
"When we released Owen into the enclosure, he lumbered to the tortoise which has a dark grey colour similar to grown up hippos," Sabine Baer, rehabilitation and ecosystems manager at the park, told Reuters on Thursday.
Haller Park ecologist Paula Kahumbu said the pair were now inseparable.
"After it was swept and lost its mother, the hippo was traumatized. It had to look for something to be a surrogate mother. Fortunately, it landed on the tortoise and established a strong bond. They swim, eat and sleep together," the ecologist added.
"The hippo follows the tortoise exactly the way it follows its mother. If somebody approaches the tortoise, the hippo becomes aggressive, as if protecting its biological mother," Kahumbu added.
"The hippo was left at a very tender age. Hippos are social animals that like to stay with their mothers for four years."
She said the hippo's chances of survival in another herd were very slim, predicting that a dominant male would have killed him.
Officials are hopeful Owen will befriend a female hippo called Cleo, also a resident at the park.