Meet Jessica, the hip hippo that fancies rooibos tea

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Jessica enjoys her favourite drink - rooibos.
Jessica enjoys her favourite drink - rooibos.
Tonie and Shirley Joubert
  • Jessica is a hippo that loves rooibos tea.
  • Jessica lives with her adoptive parents on the banks of the Blyde River.
  • They found her as a calf after some heavy flooding in the area.

Jessica is a hip hippo that has a penchant for rooibos tea.

It is her favourite snack and she eagerly gulps down about 20 litres of it a day. On very hot days, she prefers her rooibos with honey and a dash of lemon. Jessica lives on a 6ha reserve - aptly named Jessica's Place - on the banks of the Blyde River, near Hoedspruit.

Her "parents", Tonie and Shirley Joubert, discovered her among some reeds on the river bank after devastating floods ravaged parts of Mozambique and South Africa in the year 2000. The Jouberts suspect she was swept downstream shortly after she was born because she still had an umbilical cord attached to her. 

She was very weak - weighed only 16kg and stood 30cm tall at the shoulder. Even the local vet didn't think she would survive. She looked more like an ET (extra terrestrial) than a hippo, Shirley recalls.

She and Tonie managed to help their new "baby" pull through with 24-hour care and a mix of egg yolk, cream and full cream cow's milk to create a substitute for colostrum.

"Jessica's chances of survival in the wild were very slim, and we realised that it would be far more merciful to see the journey through, than to just let nature take its course, and so she became part of our family," says Shirley.

Tonie and Jessica the hippo
Jessica looks pleased as Tonie prepares to give her her favourite treat - rooibos tea.
Supplied Tonie and Shirley Joubert

When it was time to wean Jessica, the Jouberts experimented with various teas, but the only one she took to was rooibos.

To this day, she'll only drink rooibos and prefers to take it warm with a bit of brown sugar. She has it for breakfast, lunch and supper, and always nudges Tonie and Shirley for it just before bedtime. It helps her to fall asleep peacefully on the veranda along with the couple's dogs.

Over the years, Jessica has become something of an international "star". She featured in numerous documentaries, including those on the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and the BBC - and even on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Each year, thousands of tourists flock to the reserve to see her.

Last but not least, there is her personal life.

"Yes, there was a male hippo who wanted to be her boyfriend a few years ago and he would come to court her here on the veranda. Jessica, however, showed no interest in a romantic type of love affair and wanted to be just friends. They like to swim and graze together," says Shirley.

hippo drinks tea
Afternoon tea time for Jessica the hippo.
Supplied Tonie and Shirley Joubert

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