Chapter Two in which Hippo is on the horns of a dilemma

Watercolor Artist Raffaele Esposito

Wild shrieks and howls rent the air. The earth rumbled under the hooves of thousands of antelope, elephants and wildebeests on the move. As usual, Al brought the news: “The lions have called a summit,” he said. “It’s about the humans.” We all took up the call, walking, running, crawling, hopping, flying or waddling our ways to the old baobab tree, picking up hitchhikers along the way.

Elephant trumpeted the meeting to order and, one after another, Animals expressed their grievances.

“Humans chased us out of our ancestral homes,” said the lions.

“They poisoned my family,” cried a cheetah.

“They plowed up our grasses and shrubs — our food,” said the impala and the giraffe, “and our watering holes are drying up.”

My own proud family, the Hippopotamidae, had lived throughout Africa for millions of years, from the Nile valley to the southern cape. We had seen it all. Looking into the anguished eyes of the creatures gathered together on this day, I felt impassioned, as never before, to push back against the intrusions into our homelands.

But when it became my turn to speak, I was stunned to find that I wavered. All the books I had devoured had changed me in ways hitherto unrealized. On one hoof, I felt like all the other animals, but on the other hoof, I had read To Kill a Mockingbird and Life of Pi. Through the pages of these and other books, I had witnessed humans who chose honor, justice, and courage even in the face of great danger or hardship. And, oh my! When I read my first poem, “Crocodile’s Toothache” by Shel Silverstein, I roared with delight. Can you imagine a dentist climbing into a crocodile’s mouth? And when that dentist disappeared, nobody knew where he went! Al and I laughed for days over that.

Certainly, I know the difference between fact and fiction, but the thought that a human could even conceive of such things amazed me. You amazed me with your imagination, passion and strength.

Overwhelmed by this intense moral quandary, I could not find my voice. I did not even know what I could say.

“The humans are a scourge on the savanna. We must attack,” the lions roared. I hung my head.