Britain's first hippopotamus arrived at London Zoo in Regents Park on 25 May 1850. Named Obaysch, after the island in the Nile where it was found, it was said to be the first hippo seen in Europe since Roman times.
Regent's Park Zoo had been opened in 1828. The first elephant arrived in 1831, a rhinoceros in 1834 and the first giraffes in 1836, but none of these attained the superstar status of Obaysch the hippo. Its popularity may have been boosted by the supposed identification of the hippopotamus with the biblical monster Behemoth mentioned in the Book of Job. The number of visitors to the zoo doubled, and they rushed to buy hippo merchandise, including silver models of Obaysch. Punch magazine ran regular updates on the life of London's hippo, whom they elevated to the status of HRH ('His Rolling Hulk') and you could even buy sheet music for 'The Hippopotamus Polka'.
Obaysch remained a celebrity until his death in 1878, when Punch published a long memorial poem, including this couplet:
'Old Hippo's mighty yet melodious bass
Sinks to a raucous whisper, short, not sweet!'
According to Sclater's Mammals of South Africa, all authors are agreed that the flesh of the hippopotamus is excellent eating, closely resembling succulent pork or veal.
The saddest day in the history of hippos may be 12 July 1995, when the youngest and oldest hippos in captivity died on the same day: Tanga, aged 61, passed quietly away in a zoo in Munich, while in Belgium, at Olmense Zoo in Balen, a baby hippo was killed when its mother rolled over on to it when frightened by a thunderstorm.
Hippos are known to have have killed more than 400 people in Africa - more than any other wild animal.