Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Owen & Mzee (copy)

It was a balmy post-tsunami day when he was discovered on the coral reefs away from shore. Two feet tall and 600 pounds, he was a meager shadow of his parents and other herd members. But, where was the herd?

He was mad, too. People kept crowding him and throwing nets on his back. He didn’t like these men and he really didn’t like nets. His instinct told him to run, to charge, but a man called Owen Sobien put a stop to all the chaos. In one fluid motion he leapt atop the rounded figure, securing him with a shark net.

Applause erupted as our new friend was ceremoniously named Owen and unceremoniously shoved in the back of a pick-up truck. The ride was dusty and hot in the African sun as they traveled to Mombasa, Kenya where an animal sanctuary named Haller Park awaited their arrival. Unfortunately, there was a problem; the existing herd was territorial and extremely aggressive. Owen would surely be killed.

Since he was still a baby, the park managers moved him into an enclosure called a boma. At the time the boma was home to gentler animals such as, “bushbucks, vervet monkeys and a few Aldabra tortoises.”

As they backed the truck into his new home it was becoming dark. Owen struggled to stay in the truck, but the annoying people prevailed. His slightly ungracious exit was followed by a quick bee line to a dark object in the corner of the boma. Within a minute the object moved, so he moved. The object moved again, so he moved again. Everyone smiled and called it a night.

The next morning, park managers were shocked by what they saw. Owen, a mammal, was sleeping next to a cold-blooded reptile. Not just any reptile, but a 130-year-old, grumpy, Aldabra tortoise.

This is the true story of Owen, a baby hippopotamus, and his constant-companion tortoise named Mzee [mm-Zay]. Currently, three books celebrate this extraordinary friendship: Owen & Mzee: Best Friends, Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship, and Owen & Mzee: The Language of Friendship. Each book celebrates their famous kinship, and is perfect for the child ready to transition into chapter books. Elementary teachers might find these books a refreshing approach to units on animals. Coloring sheets and activities can be found online at

Note: Authors include Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, and Dr. Paula Kahumbu. Photography by Peter Greste.