Moving Hippos in the Post-9/11 World

It’s a security risk:

The crate was hoisted onto the flatbed with a 120-ton construction crane. For security reasons, there were no signs on the truck indicating that the cargo was a hippopotamus, the zoo said.

The last thing you need is a hijacked hippo.

Does this make any sense? Has there ever been a zoo animal hijacking anywhere?

EDITED TO ADD (10/13): Kidnapped zoo animals.

Posted on October 5, 2009 at 1:29 PM65 Comments


Benton Jackson October 5, 2009 1:38 PM

Can you imagine the terror that would ensue if a hippo got into the wrong hands?

No, neither can I.

William October 5, 2009 1:39 PM

I’m pretty sure that almost anyone hijacking a hippo is getting a lot more than they bargained for.

kangaroo October 5, 2009 1:40 PM

Apparently, it’s just the “everything is security” idiocy of the journalist. The rest of the story pretty clearly says that the motivation for the “security” wasn’t security, but reducing stress on the hippo — well-wishers, folks honking, etc, could be dangerous for the poor creature.

Don’t blame the zoo — blame Mike Ruane, the idiot writer. Notice it wasn’t an attributed quote, but an off the cuff paragraph — always a sign that the “journalist” has gone off the farm with his funny, feel-good story.

HJohn October 5, 2009 1:42 PM

@: “Does this make any sense? Has there ever been a zoo animal hijacking anywhere?”

Sort of. Recently a rare tiger was stolen from a zoo (in Indonesia, I believe, but I could be wrong), and it was believed to be due to the value of its fur. Similar, but rare things happen here.

I don’t know that any were “hijackings” though. I agree the statements in the article don’t make much sense.

aMan October 5, 2009 1:43 PM

Tongue-in-cheek, perhaps? The article clearly explained why they did this in the early morning out of sight of the public, and I think the reporter was having a bit of fun at the expense of “security”.

Kevin D. S. October 5, 2009 1:45 PM

Yes, I believe it is a bit of “Hippo Theater” for the animal lovers… a way to make PETA feel better, perhaps?

Craig Hughes October 5, 2009 1:45 PM

Previous zoo kidnappings? No. But do you want to be the one to explain to your boss why you were so lax with security that you created a world’s first?!?

Mithrandir October 5, 2009 1:56 PM

I will point out that hippos are often considered the most dangerous large animal in Africa. Perhaps the “security measure” (which, after all, is actually non-action: not putting up a sign) was in part to prevent misguided groups from freeing the hippo during transport and having it topple small cars and generally cause trouble.

BlueRaja October 5, 2009 1:58 PM

Reminds me of a story from previous chess world champion, Mikhail Tal:

I will never forget my game with GM Vasiukov on a USSR Championship. We reached a very complicated position where I was intending to sacrifice a knight. The sacrifice was not obvious; there was a large number of possible variations; but when I began to study hard and work through them, I found to my horror that nothing would come of it. Ideas piled up one after another. I would transport a subtle reply by my opponent, which worked in one case, to another situation where it would naturally prove to be quite useless. As a result my head became filled with a completely chaotic pile of all sorts of moves, and the infamous “tree of variations”, from which the chess trainers recommend that you cut off the small branches, in this case spread with unbelievable rapidity. And then suddenly, for some reason, I remembered the classic couplet by Korney Ivanovic Chukovsky:

“Oh, what a difficult job it was. To drag out of the marsh the hippopotamus”.

I don’t know from what associations the hippopotamus got into the chess board, but although the spectators were convinced that I was continuing to study the position, I, despite my humanitarian education, was trying at this time to work out: just how WOULD you drag a hippopotamus out of the marsh ? I remember how jacks figured in my thoughts, as well as levers, helicopters, and even a rope ladder. After a lengthy consideration I admitted defeat as an engineer, and thought spitefully to myself: “Well, just let it drown!”

And suddenly the hippopotamus disappeared. Went right off the chessboard just as he had come on … of his own accord! And straightaway the position did not appear to be so complicated.

eeee October 5, 2009 2:01 PM

@ Does this make any sense? Has there ever been a zoo animal hijacking anywhere?

Clearly you haven’t seen the movie “Operation Jumbo Drop”

Josh More October 5, 2009 2:11 PM

I’ve never heard of a hijack, but there have been many thefts from zoos over the years. (example) The reasons vary from those wanting to “free” the animal… almost always resulting in the animal’s death to sales on the exotic pet trade black market. (As an aside, this is why most zoos trade animals rather than purchasing them, as it supposedly hides the animal’s worth.) Some of the keepers I’ve talked to are very concerned about such theft, so it wouldn’t surprise me if it was part of the planning process.

However, I agree with the earlier comments about how the “hijacked hippo” comment is likely flavor text added by the author. The best reason I can see for not labeling the crate as “hippo” is so that drivers don’t do stupid maneuvers trying to see the “truck hippo”. Unlike thefts of penguins and the like, the exit strategy for a post-hippo-hijacking is somewhat less clear.

Probitas October 5, 2009 2:13 PM

@Clearly you haven’t seen the movie “Operation Jumbo Drop”

Yet more security theater.

scott October 5, 2009 2:15 PM

In his book, “Surely you’re joking, Mr Feynman”, Richard Feynman shares an interesting story about his work on the Manhattan Project that touches on the same kind of security.

To increase secrecy, the manufacturing plant was separated from where they were performing R&D. Those working there were given procedures to follow but told as little as possible about what they were doing.

When a physicist came to visit the plant, his reaction was basically: “Dear God, you can’t do that! You’ll kill us all!”

They’d performed safety calculations for dry material; not for material in solution… a completely different proposition. Apparently you just can’t abstract away nuclear material when you design a system.

I shudder at the thought of trying to abstract away a hippopotamus.

Me? I’d go the other route. I’d put huge glaring signs up… HIPPOPOTAMUS INSIDE. After all, who really wants a hippopotamus?
But an unmarked crate, now… some kleptomaniac might jack that just on a whim, if they didn’t know what was in there.

Joanna October 5, 2009 2:19 PM

I think 14 poison dart frogs were stolen from Zoo Atlanta once and never recovered. I imagine the terrorists needed them to create deadly, untreatable poisons.

Anon October 5, 2009 2:25 PM

Haven’t you all heard? Hippos are the new weapon being used by enemies of the state. Like a slow-brute force attack, they move casually, drawing attention away from people’s daily lives. At which time our enemies do the most dastardly deeds…{insert example here}.

Tanuki October 5, 2009 2:42 PM

We all know about the classic security-breach mediated by the Trojan Horse.

Next: the Trojan Hippo?

Angel One October 5, 2009 2:49 PM

Last time I was at the zoo I happened to witness a hippo feeding and talking briefly with the hippo’s trainer on the way out. Hippos are strong, vicious, and do not take lightly to strangers. If they do not know you, they will bite you. And if they bite you, whatever part of your body gets bitten will be removed from your body. I can’t think of a better solution for terrorism than allowing terrorists to hijack hippos.

McCoy Pauley October 5, 2009 2:51 PM

Personally, I’m praying for the scenario where Earth Firsters kidnap the hippo to use it for a tank, PETAphiles attack them trying to free it, and its braying attracts thousands of snakeheads, which crawl onto land and devour them all. Obviously, the President would have no choice but to nuke the city it occurs in (hopefully Detroit).

Lewis October 5, 2009 2:51 PM

It may have been for the safety of the Hippopotamus. The transport of a potentially dangerous animal could incite panic or dangerous interference.

Anon October 5, 2009 2:59 PM

Kangaroo has it right. It’s the idiot reporter. Nothing the zoo said was about a security aspect, except for the well-being and safe transport of the animal.

If the writer was trying to be amusing, they could have tried harder. It doesn’t come through.

Henning Makholm October 5, 2009 3:01 PM

Here’s what sense it makes to me:

Journalist: These photos are useless for my story! They just show a random pallet being lifted onto a truck. Why didn’t you mark it up somehow so one could see it was the hippo transport?

Zoo employee: (speechless) Why would we spend extra money and effort on signage? Nobody involved in the move mistook the truck for a different one.

Journalist: But my story!

Zoo employee: Um, since you insist .. it was for … security reasons. Yes, you can never be too careful these days. Now please go away and let me do my job.

Shawn Smith October 5, 2009 3:05 PM

Memories of the Christmas song, “I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” came to me when you mentioned this story. Now I can’t get the fscking song out of my head. Thanks a lot, asshole.


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HD October 5, 2009 3:07 PM

I guess the writer never heard the aphorism I heard from my grandfather:

“Never steal anything that eats.”

Mailman October 5, 2009 3:11 PM

I would have thought that the best to make sure that the truck would not be hijacked would precisely to put big signs all over the truck indicating what is in the cargo.

By putting a lot of security and secrecy on this move, the owners are actually putting the hippo at risk.

Sean October 5, 2009 3:20 PM

If you had ever personally smelled what comes out of the rear of a hippo, you would understand how incredibly important it is to keep these animals out of the hands (…?) of evildoers.

Petréa Mitchell October 5, 2009 3:39 PM

Oh, for the innocent days when you could simply hand your giant mammals over to a shipping service and have them delivered in plain sight.

(No, I’m not making that up just to be sarcastic. I’m thinking of when Keiko the Killer Whale was transported from Mexico City to Newport Bay, Oregon by UPS.)

lunohodov October 5, 2009 3:39 PM

A man walks along 5th Avenue and scatters sand with a shovel. A cop shows up, stops short of him and asks:
– WTF are you doing?
– Well, I am scattering sand – replies the man.
– I can see this myself! The question is why are you doing this?
– As a precaution against crocodiles – answers the man.
– There are no crocodiles here, you idiot!
– Of course not… thanks to the sand I scatter

Interpret at will 🙂

Vincent October 5, 2009 4:08 PM

People tend to get upset when things change. I’d think the greater risk would be a bunch of drunk PTA moms from Chevy Chase busing in and staging a protest against zoo downsizing. Trying to chain themselves to the hippo or something.

I’d organize that protest just to see it.

Dom De Vitto October 5, 2009 5:04 PM

You realize that the Hippo is the most dangerous animal in Africa?

Obviously, one is unlikely to kill many people, but if you secretly breed a large number, and then release them all at once – say into the subway – the terror effect would be, errr, terrible.

Markk October 5, 2009 5:14 PM

I know the buildings and grounds guy in the Milwaukee zoo, 7000 lb (over 3000 kg) animal and 10000 lb cage. The secrecy is so no loony protester gets squashed. They would have been there! Happy might have been pampered, but they are some of the nastiest creatures to mess around with. I’m looking forward to his stories on how he got the dang thing where it is supposed to go.

Alex October 5, 2009 5:25 PM

Not really a case of security so much as a case of discretion, really – it’s not so much attackers who are the problem as publicity, media activity, gawkers, etc. Doesn’t need to be secret, just non-publicised – our host would not doubt point out that non-publicity is often the best form of secrecy, though.

Neighborcat October 5, 2009 6:54 PM

No signs or labels makes complete sense if you turn the question around, as in “Why would you label the cage and or truck “Hippopotamus”?” To keep the receiving zoo from putting it in the wrong area? I think a “need to know” basis may be appropriate here.

Vincent October 5, 2009 7:11 PM

They forgot to bring the special hippopotamus moving equipment, so they had to use the regular large animal moving equipment instead. They also found that the hippo likes to hide under a tarp, it makes him easier to move.

Jason October 6, 2009 12:51 AM

Animal rights terrorists are a real and present threat to zoos, research facilities that do animal testing, etc. There are dozens of cases of theft, vandalism, and arson each year. See this FBI press release for a series of linked incidents of arson in LA, and the National Animal Interest Alliance for a complete list of recent incidents. I think worrying about them hijacking a truck with “Hippo” on the side is a realistic concern.

They rarely kill people, but they frequently do major property damage, frequently to innocent bystanders, and often end up endangering or killing the animals they’re trying to save.

Anyway, we should always be on the lookout for “security theater”, but animal rights terrorism is a real problem that needs real security, even if nobody’s talking about it.

Does that make it the elephant in the room? No wait, hippo.

Porlock Junior October 6, 2009 2:06 AM

Somehow the idea of hijacking a hippopotamus makes me think of the Conan Doyle story, “The Missing Special”, in which a railroad train disappears, in broad daylight for what that’s worth, in the middle of England.

Vincent October 6, 2009 5:47 AM

Yes, yes, the Army of the 12 Monkeys, et. al. Even supermarkets have to worry about their live lobster tanks thanks to the degenerative effects of marijuana use and a low-protein diet.

I say let them try to liberate the hippo. It would make my day.

BF Skinner October 6, 2009 6:09 AM

writer probably just practicing his alliteration for when he becomes an editor and gets to make up headline…healthy hijacked hippo harmed none…

and not ONE hungry hungry hippo joke? sigh

D0R October 6, 2009 8:43 AM

The first image that came to my mind is someone hijacking a pterodactyl and crashing it on a skyscraper.

Jim A. October 6, 2009 8:53 AM

Well in ’83 Louis Morton stole a Gaboon viper from the National Zoo. He almost died when it bit him and they had to ship anti-venom from zoos up and down the East coast to save his life. Zoos only keep a dose to stave off death long enough to get more doses, since it costs alot and has limited shelf life.

Wes P October 6, 2009 10:05 AM

If anyone at the zoo even used the word “security” to refer to how this hippo was being transported, I’d be willing to bet that it could have been just as equally translated as “safety.” That really does seem like what they were trying to do: Keep the hippo and its drivers safe.

“5,000-pound hippopotamus”

“10,000-pound crate”

“who needs an emotional hippopotamus on an 18-hour drive”

That thing thrashing around in a cage on the back of a truck could cause some problems, I imagine.

Curt Sampson October 6, 2009 1:28 PM

I rather think parts of the article are tongue in cheek.

“The 800-mile trip went well, zoo officials said, although they couldn’t let Happy out to use the restroom.”

Matt from CT October 6, 2009 2:03 PM

What, all these replies today and no mention of the size of an Al Queda Butt Bomb that could be inserted if they lost track of the hippo for only a few moments during the movement?

David Sucher October 6, 2009 11:42 PM

I think you are making too much of a minor remark. The story is clear that the secrecy was to benefit the hippo.

Major Variola (ret) October 7, 2009 3:14 PM

You don’t get it. Its to protect against
animal right militants. (There are some
who might protest the jailing of the
hippo in a zoo..)

Harrow October 7, 2009 4:01 PM

I think the author of the article was very foolish to attempt to make it more interesting with his “hijacked hippo” remark. The story is amazingly hilarious as it is, mainly because it is about a hippopotamus. Almost anything you can say about a hippopotamus is funny:

“His longtime keeper, J.T. Taylor, tried to soothe him, talking through the crate slats, and saying, ‘Just remember, I’m not doing this to you.'”

Because hippos have looong memories.

“The last thing you need is a hijacked hippo.”

Most people would say that the last thing you need is a hippo, regardless of how you obtained it.

“‘He was in good spirits when he arrived,’ said Milwaukee zoo spokeswoman Jennifer Diliberti.”

Okay. Anybody who talks like this has spent waay to much time thinking about hippos.

“The 800-mile trip went well, although they couldn’t let Happy out to use the restroom. Two keepers and a veterinarian went along in a chase car in case of trouble. And zoos along the way were alerted in case of an emergency.”

If I were driving that chase car I would have alerted a few carwashes along the way in case of “an emergency”.

-Harrow the hippophile.

inetlocksmith October 9, 2009 4:32 AM

I don’t see a problem practicing op sec here. I can’t believe that when someone gives some thought to simple and easy security measures and implements them that this forum would discourage such actions. All they did here was not advertise their actions like carrying a large sum of money in a brown paper bag. I doubt there were armed guards.

tOM Trottier October 11, 2009 3:48 AM

Have none of you had kids?

It’s not the terrorists the trucking company is worried about, but crowds of kids impeding the way wanting to look & touch.


Kyle November 15, 2010 4:16 AM

What could SWIM (Someone Who Isn’t Me)
do with a hijacked hippo assuming the stars were aligned to make the plan work out which would be extraordinary even if the plans fail.

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