10 min read

Cutest Baby Hippos Meet And Instantly Fall In Love

"Charlie is extremely protective over Moo. If she is unsure, she hides behind him with her head tucked under his bottom."

Before Charlie and Moomin met, neither of them had spent much time with other hippos. Charlie had spent most of his life with people and rhinos, while Moomin’s best friend was a sheep. But when the two hippos met, they fell madly and deeply in love.

Rescued hippos cuddling together
Charlie and Moomin sleeping in the straw together | Zululand Rhino Orphanage

Charlie and Moomin both had rough starts to life.

When Charlie was only 2 days old, his family abandoned him in South Africa, leaving him sick and alone and vulnerable to predators. Thankfully, rescuers found Charlie before anything happened to him and delivered him to Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage.

Baby hippo lying on blanket
Charlie when he first arrived at the sanctuary | Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage

While living at the rhino orphanage, Charlie bonded with Makhosi, a young female rhino who’d also lost her family, and the two of them helped each other grow healthy and strong.

As for Moomin, she was only 3 months old when rangers found her huddled next to the body of her dead mother in the Kwandwe Private Game Reserve in South Africa. The team at Kwandwe took Moomin into their care and found her a friend, Piet the sheep.

Rhino cuddling with hippo
Makhosi cuddling up with Charlie at the sanctuary | Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage

In February 2017, tragedy struck at Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage — poachers broke into the orphanage and shot two young rhinos, Impy and Gugu, who both ended up dying. A few months after the attack, Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage permanently closed for the animals’ safety, and Charlie, Makhosi and another rhino named Isomiso moved to Zululand Rhino Orphanage.

In September 2017, the team at Zululand Rhino Orphanage got a call from the rangers at Kwandwe Private Game Reserve. The rangers had heard about Charlie living there, and they wanted to know if they could move Moomin to the orphanage and set the two hippos up.

Hippos snoozing together
Charlie and Moomin spending time together in their enclosure | Zululand Rhino Orphanage

“I knew Charlie needed a female of his own species to ever stand a chance of being released back into the wild, [but] I honestly had no idea if Charlie and Moo would like each other,” Megan Lategan, manager at Zululand Rhino Orphanage, told The Dodo. “It was a huge risk, but one we had to take.”

Moomin lived over 800 miles away, and Lategan and her boyfriend drove for over 40 hours to pick up Moomin and Piet and bring them back to Zululand Rhino Orphanage. But the journey was worth it.

Hippos meeting each other
Charlie and Moomin (with Piet the sheep) sniffing each other through the bars of their enclosure | Zululand Rhino Orphanage

“We built a small fenced pen for Moomin and Piet inside Charlie’s boma [enclosure] so that they could get used to each other slowly,” Lategan said. “Moomin and Charlie immediately started sniffing each other through the fence and they snorted at each other, calling loudly in their hippo voices every now and then. We were so excited at their initial reaction. After two days of them ‘chatting’ through the fence we decided to let Moomin and Piet in with Charlie.”

But when the moment finally came for the hippos to meet face-to-face, Charlie seemed more interested in Piet.

Hippos eating in their enclosure
Zululand Rhino Orphanage

“He sniffed him [Piet] and chased him around the boma with Moomin in tow,” Lategan said. “Moomin would sneak up to Charlie and sniff him from behind in her shy manner. It was clear that in order for Charlie and Moomin to bond we needed to remove Piet the sheep from the equation.”

Separating Moomin and Piet was going to be tricky — the pair hadn’t spent a moment apart for months.

Rescued hippos sharing enclosure
Charlie and Moomin after they were paired up at the rhino sanctuary | Zululand Rhino Orphanage

“The next day we kept Moomin busy and coaxed Piet out with some grass, and we moved him to a boma nearby,” Lategan said. “When Moomin realized he was gone, she did a 360-degree turn around the boma searching for her friend. Piet was gone but Charlie was there. Within minutes she latched onto Charlie and they started getting to know each other.”

A friendship between Charlie and Moomin immediately started to bloom.

Zululand Rhino Orphanage

“It has been incredible watching how quickly their bond has formed,” Lategan said. “They spend almost 60 percent of their days in the water, where they chat away, and nap in between.”

As for Piet the sheep, he now lives on a nearby property surrounded by ewes. “He’s happy as any ram could be,” Lategan said.

Charlie still has contact with Makhosi, who lives in the enclosure next to his. But now that Moomin has arrived, Charlie spends all of his time with his new hippo friend.

“They are inseparable and Charlie is extremely protective over Moo,” Lategan said. “If she is unsure, she hides behind him with her head tucked under his bottom.”

Rhino and hippos inside boma
Makhosi inside the enclosure with Charlie and Moomin | Zululand Rhino Orphanage

“I absolutely love the way Moo rests her head on Charlie’s back — it’s a real comfort, ‘I am safe’ position,” Lategan added.

Moomin has also taught Charlie a lot about being a hippo, according to Lategan. “Charlie has never been with another hippo his whole life, and Moo has taught him what it is like to be a hippo and not a rhino,” she said.

Hippos sharing pool
Charlie and Moomin spending time in their pool together | Zululand Rhino Orphanage

One important thing she’s taught Charlie is how to enjoy water.

“Before Moo arrived, we would have a hard time getting Charlie to spend time in his water hole,” Lategan said. “Now Charlie and Moo spend about 70 percent of their day in the water.”

Hippos swimming together
Zululand Rhino Orphanage

She also taught Charlie how to properly drink. “Charlie would always ‘bite’ the water, then throw his head back to swallow,” Lategan said. “He now puts his lips in the water and slurps as hippos normally do.”

Not only do Charlie and Moomin spend their time together, they also constantly talk.

Hippos inside enclosure
Zululand Rhino Orphanage

“They chat all day,” Lategan added. “Charlie calls with a loud, deep voice and Moo calls after him with a gentle, softer voice. It’s too precious.”

When Charlie and Moomin are old enough, they’ll be released back into the wild.

Hippos walking together in enclosure
Charlie and Moomin walking together in their enclosure | Zululand Rhino Orphanage

“When Moo is off milk, then they will stay in a 3.5-hectare boma with a big dam where they can swim all day and graze all night,” Lategan said. “This will also slowly get them less attached to their carers.”

Whatever happens upon their release, Charlie and Moomin will have each other — and that’s the most important thing.

To help Charlie and Moomin return to the wild, you can make a donation to Zululand Rhino Orphanage.
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