She's been featured in documentaries, had a role in a comedy film and appeared on The Oprah Winfrey show. So it's little wonder Jessica the hippo is treated like a celebrity in the small town of Hoedspruit in Limpopo.
The 20-year-old beast certainly lives lavishly. She drinks up to 20 litres of rooibos tea a day, has an ear for classical music and enjoys veggies, say her owners, Tonie and Shirley Joubert.
The couple are game rangers who own a farm near the Blyde River. “Jessica is one of the only hippos we know of that lives freely and isn’t in captivity. She has the freedom to roam around the farm," Tonie tells YOU.
“When she isn’t swimming with other hippos in the river, she’s showing off her personality to guests.”
The pair own a nature reserve where they invite guests to interact with Jessica. The hippo, who weighs a staggering 1600kg, loves being fed by guests on top of a raft in the river or by the jetty and some of her favourite foods are apples, sweet potatoes, carrots and bread.
Though she's about nine times heavier than a car, they say she's a gentle giant.
"She's also intelligent. She knows how to open the door into the house from the veranda where she sleeps with our five English bull terriers,” Tonie tells YOU.
Tonie and Shirley rescued Jessica just hours after she was born in 2002. The calf was swept downstream near their home because of devastating floods in Mozambique and South Africa.
“She was weak and tired from the ordeal, weighing only 16kg. When I picked her up I realised she still had her umbilical cord attached,” Tonie says.
To increase her chances of survival, the game ranger, who has more than 45 years experience, put together a colostrum substitute. The traumatised calf couldn't get enough of the milk-like liquid.
“We bottle-fed the formula, which consisted of full-cream milk, egg yolk and cream. In 24 hours Jessica hungrily consumed 1,6 litres," he recalls.
After a rocky start, Jessica is now living like a rock star. "She's featured in 106 documentaries, played a role in Mr Bones, featured in an Oprah Winfrey show and is visited by many people from across the globe,” Tonie says proudly.
She got a taste for tea when they tried to wean her off her formula.
“We tried a few teas and the only one she took a liking to was rooibos. She now drinks it for breakfast, lunch and supper. She prefers it slightly warm, with a little bit of sugar and sometimes just before her bedtime she’ll nudge us because it helps her fall asleep,” he says.
Over the years the animal-loving couple have gone to great lengths to protect Jessica.
Common hippos are listed as vulnerable and endangered. Over the past 10 years the population has drastically declined by between seven and 20%, according to the Save Animals Facing Extinction Organisation.
“Jessica is protective of us, she's family, which is why it’s important for us to protect her too,” Tonie says.