Back in the late 1960's my siblings, Neil and Fiona and
myself had the privilege of living in Malawi as the sun set on the Colonial
era. My father, a seafaring Scotsman was employed by Malawi Railways Lake
Service in the "Warm Heart of Africa" as the Master of the MV Ilala.
This engagingly quaint 620 ton Steamer ploughed up and down
Lake Malawi from Monkey Bay in the south to Karonga in the north. In fact it is
still doing just that all these years later and celebrated its 60th birthday in
It was based at
Monkey Bay and it was here that we had our family home. Idealic school holidays
from St Andrews Preparatory and High Schools in Blantyre were spent in the
clear blue waters of one of the largest inland "lakes" in the world.
It was here that we
all first encountered the Hippo that was to be in our lives for a number of
years. The children of Monkey Bay came up with the name 'Boris'.
He literally appeared out of the blue one day, much to the
utter shock of my poor mother! Lake Malawi has fairly large populations of
hippo and crocodile but they seemed to avoid the slightly busier Monkey By with
its Lake Fleet base, holiday traffic and quite large local population.
The common view was that Boris originated from Coffee Bay
next door and had reached an age where he was no longer productive to the herd.
Much like the Eskimos used to do he was excommunicated and sent on his way.
Befriending hippos is not usually good for your health! They
probably account for more deaths in rural Africa than crocodiles and snakes
combined. Mostly herbivorous mammals
and even though humans are not on their
daily menu their powerful jaws, suspicious temperaments and sheer bulk of up to
3 tons make for a formidable foe.
What better pals to develop then the unsuspecting humans
next door in Monkey Bay and so there he arrived unannounced. Unannounced is an
understatement. One minute you were swimming and the next there was a full
grown hippo eyeballing you.
He would suddenly barge out of the water and romp all over
the beach, much to the delight of the ever increasing crowds. His fame spread
far and wide and if I recall he was a centre spread in one of the British
Sunday papers. There was a raft about 100 metres out in the Lake from the
Monkey Bay Railway Club and this was his favourite hangout. He would let us
swim out and then keep us stranded on the raft as he circled around, walking as
hippos do, on the lake bed.
One glorious summer
afternoon I had to escort my sister Fiona back to shore while Boris followed
I was able to feed him with cabbage and beer at arms length
whereas he would bellow in appreciation and splash at speed back into the
depths. In the photo, which I can only guess was taken around 1968 when I was
13, is my sister Fiona and friend Didi Burke.
Boris would spend the night ravaging our vegetable gardens
in the staff suburb about 3 kilometres from the lakeside. Our defense against
that was to run outside screaming at the top of our lungs and flashing
We were all well aware of his potential threat and at all
times treated him with caution but the sight of Boris popping his head out of
the water and flickering his ears in the distance always prompted us to dash
into the lake to engage with our friend. Crazy.... you bet! 45 years later I
would not be seen anywhere near him but such is age, wisdom and a desire to
Tragically Boris died a few years later when he was deemed
to be too much of a nuisance and in an effort to move him he was darted but he made
it back into the water and subsequently drowned.
What a wonderful experience and an unforgettable character.
Living in an African paradise and a close up encounter with one of Africa's
giants. RIP Boris the Hippo. Thanks for the fun and all the memories.
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