The most famous hippo in the history of Prague Zoo


15. 10. 2018

He has gone down in history as one of the symbols of the catastrophic flood of 2002. When the water flooded the pachyderms’ house, virtually no one expected that Slávek the hippo, who was trapped on the ground floor, would survive. Eventually, however, to everyone’s surprise, the volunteers found him alive and well on the first floor, in the narrow corridor above the elephant stables. There was even a picture with Slávek sticking his broad head out of the window of the house. This photograph not only went global, but, above all, it brought hope that as Slávek had survived the thousand-year water, then so too would the entire zoo.

Just over a week ago, Slávek died at the age of 34. We will miss him dearly ...

“The common hippopotamus has a reputation of being an extremely dangerous animal. Especially the males, who pertinaciously defend their territories and are the terror of the African continent. Slávek was completely different,“ recalls keeper Martin Kristen. “The enormous, but very good-natured Slávek was hugely popular among his colleagues. He would defend his territory in a very similar manner to hippos in the wild, but he used every opportunity to push his head through the window in the massive stable gate in the hope of getting a little extra food. No one could resist that big, wide open mouth. In addition, Slávek was very partial to a scratch on the roof of the mouth or a slight pull on his tongue.”

Yes, that’s exactly how I will remember Slávek! In the window of the old house with his mouth wide open. Once I threw him a whole cabbage and he wolfed it down like it was a raspberry. I didn’t pull his tongue, we weren’t that intimate.

When it comes to intimacy, then Slávek’s closest confidant was probably Zbyněk Šíša. When they succeeded in finding Slávek above the elephant stables in 2002, it was Zbyněk who they called for, “Slávek lay in the narrow corridor, so he filled it up, and because I wanted to check the rest of the house, I had to go over him. He had his bottom to the doors of the gallery, so I spoke to him, he looked up and put his head back down again. I tried to go over the concrete railing, but it didn’t work out, so I used the prone Slávek as a support. He didn’t protest at all and let me go there and back, because there was no other way to get round him.”

Slávek also gained the respect of the keepers for being a hippo with an unusually considerate attitude towards the young, especially in his younger years. In short, he was quite unique! “A real character,” says Martin Kristen, adding, “I will always remember his low bellow resounding from the old elephant house in the evenings.”

Miroslav Bobek
Director of Prague Zoo