I’m sure by now most of you have heard the Christmas classic “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” I say classic because the song is nearly 60 years old. I don’t call it a classic because I enjoy hearing it year after year. I find it to be obnoxious. And irritating. And extremely catchy. Which is probably the most irritatingly obnoxious aspect of the song’s appeal.
If you haven’t heard the song, count your blessings (I’ll get negative feedback for that, I’m sure. People tend to get really defensive about this thing for some reason). And, if you haven’t heard it, you probably don’t know it’s sung by a little girl who is basically asking Santa Claus for a hippopotamus for Christmas. Though, I suppose, you could have gleaned that tidbit of information from the title.
To give the little girl credit, she’s only asking for a hippo. Nothing else on her wish list. Just a 4,000 pound mammal that she can hide in her garage. Like most kids who ask for a pet, she swears that she’ll take care of it all by herself. Can you imagine a 10-year-old child taking care of a hippopotamus? Let’s imagine that scenario for a moment.
The first problem this kid should think about is the feeding of the hippo. She’s right when she mentions the hippo being a vegetarian. But has she thought about how much vegetation it would take to keep a creature of that size alive? Roughly 150 pounds of grass on a daily basis. All right, I mowed my share of lawns as a teenager. Okay, I mowed my lawn as a teenager. But I did it many times. And we didn’t have one of those mulching mowers. So after mowing, I raked grass into piles and bagged it to be thrown out with the trash. Anyway, I think we can all agree that I’m a wuss when it comes to the heavy lifting. If I could lift a bag full of grass clippings, I think I can safely say that it was significantly less than 150 pounds. For argument’s sake, let’s just say the little girl with the hippo is allowing the animal to graze in her back yard. Her oversized pet is probably ripping the grass out by the roots as it eats. Eventually, there won’t be any grass left. Probably after one day of feeding. And then what do you do, little girl? Will little miss “I’m gonna take care of my hippopotamus” go out and get a job so she can pay for the ridiculous amounts of vegetation that the hippo will need to eat? I don’t think so. There are child labor laws that would prevent such a travesty. That means that mommy and daddy are paying for your hippo’s food. Lesson the first: you can’t properly feed a hippo in the back yards of suburbia.
Problem number two involves the hippo’s enclosure. That’s what the zoos call them these days. But a two car garage will not make for a proper hippopotamus habitat. Hippos thrive in lakes and rivers. They like to spend their days wallowing in mud. It keeps them cool on the hot African savanna. I can’t imagine that mom and dad will be too thrilled if their little girl attempts to fill the garage with wet dirt. Even so, again, how would she pay for such a thing? Granted, she’ll have plenty of mud in the back yard once it rains after her hippo’s first (and only) grazing session. This still doesn’t solve the problem of having some deep water where her hippo can frolic. If the family has a pool, that may work. I wouldn’t chlorinate the thing, though. For the hippo’s sake. But a pool seriously takes up space, giving a lot less room for grass to grow. Lesson the second: a hippo will not be comfortable hanging out on the concrete floor of an oil stained garage 24/7.
Finally we come to the issue of a hippo’s aggression. By nature, hippopotami are very aggressive beasts. If our little songstress receives a male, she’ll have to deal with his extreme territorial behavior every time she tries to feed him his 150 pounds of grass clippings. If she gets a female, well, God help her parents if the hippo becomes attached to their little girl. The females are overly protective of their young. I’m not sure how it works with hippo to human bonding, but it’s an experiment that I would not be willing to participate in. Of course, this is ignoring the fact that hippos have been known to attack humans without provocation. So imagine what they would do if a certain little girl forgets to let them outside for their time in the pool. CHOMP! That jaw closes with 1,800 pounds of force and someone’s coming back from the garage missing an arm. Not that the hippo would eat the arm. He or she still prefers the grass that it hasn’t been getting since clearing out the back yard. Lesson the third: hippos are just mean.
It is my sincere hope that this little girl did not, in fact, receive a hippopotamus for Christmas in 1953. I hope her parents made her settle for a screening of Fantasia. At the very least, she should have been happy with that scene involving ballerina hippos. Maybe her parents took her to a decent zoo with a hippo exhibit. Sadly, she had to wait 25 years for Hungry Hungry Hippos to be introduced to the world. But it’s my hope that she was able to enjoy that game in her adulthood.