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International Herald Tribune

HOME   Hippo Kills Zoo Director

Wednesday, November 3, 1999

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Animal May Have Seen Tractor as Sexual Rival

PARIS - A male hippopotamus in rut, an annual state of sexual excitement, apparently mistook a tractor for a rival - or a female hippopotamus - and trampled the director of a zoo near Bordeaux, officials there said Tuesday.

The animal charged through an electrified fence Monday and raced after the new tractor, trampling the director, Jean Ducuing, who was cycling past.

''It was a crime of passion,'' said a zoo spokesman.

''We tried to drive him off with pitchforks, but it was too late,'' said Bruno Mourgues, chief of animal care at the zoo. Workers later succeeded in driving the hippo back into its enclosure with the forks.

The zoo authorities at Pessac were deciding what to do with the seven-year-old, two-ton animal, which can live up to 40 years in captivity. They said they were hoping that another zoo would take the hippo, which is called Komir, rather than having it put down.

Mr. Mourgues said the hippopotamus was normally docile. Mr. Ducuing, who was in his early 60s, had trained it, and publicity pictures showed him putting his head between its cavernous jaws.

But rutting hippopotami are known for sometimes mortal combat in which they charge rivals at speeds of up to 40 kilometers (25 miles) an hour, despite their bulk and stubby legs. Under such conditions, they are virtually unstoppable and highly dangerous, experts said.

One employee said, ''Komir had always been jealous of that tractor. He saw it as competition.''

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