Hungry Hungry Hippos

At the beginning of the 20th century Louisiana was having a serious problem with invasive water hyacinth.  It was killing off fish and choking up the water ways.  At the same time, the United States was suffering through a meat shortage.

A bold plan to solve both problems was developed by Frederick Russell Burnham and Fritz Duquesne.  Burnham, possibly the most interesting man that history forgot, was the inspiration behind Indiana Jones, and the reason the Boy Scouts organization was conceived.

Both Burnham and Duquesne were enemies assigned to kill one another in the Second Boer War.  They set aside their rivalry, however, when Congressman Robert Broussard approached them to solve the issue.  Both considered themselves to be men of honor so when asked to work together to solve a problem affecting the country, they agreed, and began working on a solution.

Both men were extensive travelers and both spent significant time in Africa.  This led them to the idea to import hippos from Africa and set up hippo ranches in the bayous of Louisiana.  Ironically, hyacinth was also an imported species.  The plants were brought as a gift by a visiting Japanese delegation.  However, the plants quickly took over the bayous and became a serious ecological issue.  The hope was that the hippos would eat the hyacinth and would also provide a source of meat.  The bayous of Louisiana are not so different from their local environments, so in theory it sounded like the perfect solution to both problems.

Obviously there are not hippo ranches in Louisiana today, nor were there ever.  So what happened?  Though the idea got a lot of attention and a lot of enthusiasm, it was left on the desks of congress and never gained any more traction than that.

Instead of importing hippos they simply engineered the landscapes, once unproductive, into productive farmland as well as expanding the stock of animals available in the United States.

To think we could be enjoying hippo jerky.  Wasn’t meant to be.

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