Two boys survive hippo encounter at Kansas City Zoo

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The Kansas City Zoo plans to press charges against two teenage boys who allegedly climbed into the hippo exhibit and threw rocks at the two-ton mammals, zoo officials said.

A 14-year-old witness spotted the boys Monday as the hippos were becoming angry and charging. The boys, whose identities were not released, survived the encounter without injuries.

Randy Wisthoff, the zoo director, said the boys, both 14, are from St. Louis and were apparently trying to impress a girl.

The massive hippos, which spend much of their days submerged in water, are often considered one of the most dangerous animals in the world.

Wisthoff said zoo officials did not see what happened. When security guards arrived, the boys were outside the hippo enclosure and tried to run away, but the guards caught them.

Wisthoff said none of the three paid admission to the zoo and had sneaked in.

"We're going to prosecute whenever we can when people do stupid things," Wisthoff said. "Everything here is wild. They're behind fences for a reason. There's a reason you don't let people go in with hippos or elephants or tigers or giraffes."

The Kansas City Zoo has two female adult hippos, which were not harmed. Their enclosure consists of a water tank and a pathway to their holding barn.

Hippos, native to Africa, are the third-largest land animals, after elephants and white rhinos. They can weigh up to 3 1/2 tons and are plant eaters.

John Davis, a national expert on hippos, said it was a crazy stunt, considering the animals' weight and that they can run faster than the average human, at least for short distances.

"If they do feel threatened, their size, intelligence, speed and teeth enable them to enforce their territory," said Davis, who keeps track of the 118 captive hippos in North America as curator of mammals at Riverbanks Zoo in South Carolina.

Information from: The Kansas City Star,

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