South Africa’s Most Famous Runaway Beasts

Words and photographs by Chris Marais

Should you find yourself in the Amathole Museum in King William’s Town, Eastern Cape, look out for the display of a very large Cape Buffalo gazing confidingly across at a very round hippo.

Museum

The buffalo is called Wolzak. But the really interesting critter here is the hippo, who goes by the name of Huberta. She was, in her time, a serious travelling hippo who made national headlines wherever she went.

Sylvester the lion
Huberta the wandering hippo.

Back in November 1928, Huberta simply departed from her St Lucia waterhole and strolled in a southerly direction all along the old Natal coastline.

She made appearances on various beaches and golf courses along the way. The local communities of Zulu and Xhosa grew to revere her, and the hippo passed through their settlements unharmed.

Huberta came to a sticky end, however, when she was hunted by farmers somewhere along the Keiskamma River in the Eastern Cape. An international outcry followed, because the hippo had earlier been declared “royal game” and was much-beloved by the public at large.

Now fast-forward nearly 90 years to another wandering beast, a magnificent lion called Sylvester.

Sylvester the lion

The history of the Karoo is dotted with lion stories. Early travellers made big fires at night to keep them at bay. So when the news broke that a male lion had escaped from the Karoo National Park outside Beaufort West in 2015, it caught the public imagination.

Soon the lion’s name was Sylvester, by public demand. Then news of his exploits went viral on Twitter, with Facebook carrying regular “Sylvester updates” from SANParks.

He was captured, collared and escaped again. This time, however, they could track him easier and he was darted by helicopter before he could take his personal tally of sheep dinners beyond 28.

Sylvester, as you may have heard, has a presently happier end-story than the unfortunate Huberta. He has been moved to an area of wilderness shared by the Addo Elephant National Park and Kuzuko Lodge in the Eastern Cape. And boy, is he loving his new digs!

Sylvester the lion

For the full story of Sylvester, his new home and his gang of misfit companions, see the April 2017 issue of SA Country Life magazine.

Chris Marais and his wife Julienne du Toit are regular contributors to Country Life. They write and publish books on the Karoo: Karoo Keepsakes I, Karoo Keepsakes II and Road Tripper – Eastern Cape Karoo. All are available from www.karoospace.co.za 

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