Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Zoo History: Only a Hippopotamus Will Do

"I want a hippopotamus for Christmas,
Only a hippopotamus will do.
No crocodiles, no rhinoceroses,
I only likes hippopotamuses!"

The week before Thanksgiving, I made the decision to shut off my car radio, and keep it off through the end of the year.  If I have a CD handy, I play it on long drives, but for short jaunts around town... silence.  Silence is beautiful.  Silences is serene.  And silence is a hell of a lot better than 8,428 renditions of "Winter Wonderland."  Every radio station I listen to is now 24/7 Christmas music, and my ears are about ready to mutiny and give themselves the Van Gogh treatment.

There is one Christmas song that  realized the other day that I almost never hear during my (frequent) involuntary exposure to the songs of the season.  And that little ditty is John Rox's "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas", best known for its performance by Gayla Peevey.

As any hippo-loving child would (and in particular as one who did, according to family lore, request a pet hippo as a kid), I heard that song growing up.  A lot.  Mostly (well, always) from one or the other of my parents.  I inherited my musical ability from them, so needless to say, it was not a pleasant experience.

What would have made it more bearable is if they had told me the story behind the song - the little Gayla did, in fact, get her hippopotamus... sort of.

Peevey's hometown was Oklahoma City, and though she moved a bit to the north as a child, it was still the closest real city.  Based on the popularity of her song, a local promoter decided that this kid was getting her hippo - care of the city zoo, of course.  The story is often gotten backwards - that Ms Peevey performed the song in order to raise funds for the Oklahoma City Zoo to purchase a hippo.  In fact, they ended up with a hippo because she sang the song.  One can only wonder how different it would be if she's sang, "I Want a Duck-Billed Platypus for Christmas."  Such penny-drives for zoo animals weren't uncommon back in the day, when most animals were obtained through purchase.  It's how my hometown zoo received its first elephant, back in the day. 

Anyway, Oklahoma City Zoo got its hippo i n 1953.  Mathilda was a proud resident of the zoo for fifty years.

History doesn't often repeat itself, but it has been known to rhyme now and then.  Earlier this December, the Oklahoma City Zoo welcomed a new pygmy hippopotamus (Mathilda, the original hippo of song and story, was a Nile hippo).  This one was not purchased through donations - instead, it was a transfer from the San Diego Zoo, fulfilling a recommendation by the Species Survival Plan.

I don't suppose I need to say who the guest of honor at the unveiling was.

Happy Hippo Holidays!

No comments:

Post a Comment