“Maybe the hippo has gone to the big pool in the sky,” I said to photographer Alon Skuy.
“Ja, he hasn’t taken a breath in a while,” Alon replied.
It was meant to be a joke but Solly the hippo was obviously stressed.
For the last hour and a bit, he had been lying on his side. Once in a while he would lift his head and take a laboured breath.
But Alon, myself and the rest of the media, who had gathered around the swimming pool, didn’t really think Solly would die.
The story line dictated that he lives, as this was suppose to be a good news story, in a week dominated by the Marikana massacre.
News editors saw the rescue of Solly the hippo, as a light hearted story to balance out the gloom of burials and memorials.
Solly, had fallen into the swimming pool during the early hours of Tuesday morning. The manager of game farm, Nico Ferreira said that Solly was probably kicked out of his family pod at a nearby dam by the dominant male.
The young bull hippo was soon christened Solly after the lodge’s long serving game ranger.
Once word got out the media descended.
TV crews, radio, local journs, then later the international press pitched up.
By Thursday, cameras had been set up along the pool’s edge and radio journalists were giving updates by the hour.
Solly didn’t like us being there. He’d come to the surface snort and disappear again. Once he mock charged, lunging forward in the confines of the ten to five metre pool.
“Little Solly, I think he likes the limelight,” remarked one journalist.
But a nature conservation official didn’t like it that we were here.
“If I was here earlier, I would have told them not to let the media in, they are stressing the animal,” he said.
However the man who was to save Solly, game capturer Simon Prinsloo reassured me that the hippo was okay. These are tough animals, he told me.
Prinsloo’s plan was to drain the pool of water, then a vet would dart Solly with a tranquilizer. Once the hippo was knock out, he would be placed in a harness then hoisted, by crane, out of the pool and dropped into a trailer.
Then he would be moved to farm where he could choose between five dams.
“He will get a female hippo, so he can start his own family,” said a journalist.
But by Friday morning, Solly wasn’t doing good. They had drained more water from the pool and they were waiting for the vet to arrive.
The vet was suppose to arrive at 8am, two hours later as it got hotter and hotter, he had yet to arrive. The hippo was now lying in about a foot and half of water, they were cooling him off with a hose pipe.
Rumours began to circulate that Solly was dying.
Still I didn’t believe it, only later was I to realise I was the jinx.
You see, I had been at the other animal rescue media junket. The media were invited to the Lion and Rhino park to watch a male rhino be darted and a micro chip be placed in its horn.
A routine procedure, but the rhino died while under anaesthetic. Once again I was watching an animal die in the glare of the media.
Solly lifted his head for what was to be the last time. He took a single breath, before his nostrils slipped below the water. His limbs stiffened for a moment, there was a tremor in his left hind leg, then he was still.
As Alon and I joked whether Solly was still in the land of the living, the game capturers were taking worrying glances at the hippo.
“I dink sy is dood, (I think he is dead)” commented one in Afrikaans. Minutes later the vet finally arrived. He took one look at Solly and declared him dead. Later he was to say that the hippo had been in poor condition. It was unlikely he would have survived been darted, he said. He added that all the media attention didn’t help things either.
The story had changed, another tragedy in a week of tragedies. The photograph had become Solly’s dead body being hoisted out of the pool, not him being released on that farm with five dams.
Maybe the bustle of the media crowding and watching his every move had contributed to his death, but I prefer it was the weeks of hardship and stress caused by when he was kicked out of his family.