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Huberta: the wandering star of the Eastern Cape

One of King William's Town's most famous residents is Huberta the hippo. In November 1928, for reasons known only to herself, Huberta began a long trek from St Lucia in Zululand to the Eastern Cape. For three years, she took a 1 600km wandering path southwards and her adventures captured the imagination of the nation and the world.

Huberta was not shy of strangers - she crossed roads and railroads and visited towns and cities. She ate her way through parks, gardens and farms and trampled over golf courses. Wherever she went, there followed journalists, photographers, hunters - and the interest of thousands of people. She became quite famous and her story appeared in South Africa's newspapers, as well as international publications such as Punch and the Chicago Tribune.

The press, thinking she was a male hippo, nicknamed her Hubert. Later, when it was discovered that Hubert was in fact a female, she was renamed Huberta.

During her journey through what was then Natal (now called KwaZulu-Natal), Huberta settled in the lagoon at the mouth of the Mhlanga River. She seemed to enjoy her new home, and visitors would throw fruit, sugar cane and other titbits to her.

A decision was made to move Huberta to the Johannesburg Zoo and a team set out to capture her. However, Huberta evaded capture in a classic comic-book scenario: journalists fell into mud pools in their efforts to interview her and she chased photographers up trees. But, as her status grew, the Natal Provincial Council decided to declare her royal game and it became illegal to catch or hunt her.

Once her idyllic life in the pool had been disturbed, she continued to travel southwards. She walked on to one of Durban's beaches, and amused holidaymakers when she swam in the sea and sauntered along the beach. She trampled over the elite Beachwood Golf Course and arrived uninvited to a party at the Durban Country Club, ambling along the veranda as partygoers danced.

She went from there to the Umgeni River. She reached mythical status, with Zulus allegedly convinced that she had some connection to King Shaka because of the time she had spent in one of his former sacred pools. Xhosas honoured her as the spirit of a great chief who had returned to the world to seek justice for his people.

In March 1931, Huberta reached East London, having crossed 122 rivers. A month later, three hunters shot and killed her while she was basking in the Keiskamma River. Her body was found floating downstream.

There was a national outrcy and her killers were tracked down. They pleaded ignorance about her identity, but were fined £25 each for destroying royal game.

Huberta's body was recovered and, on her return from a taxidermist in London in 1932, more than 20 000 people flocked to see the mounted animal on loan to the Durban Museum for two months.

Today, the preserved, stuffed body can be viewed at the Amathole Museum, King William's Town, in the Eastern Cape.

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 Where to see Huberta

See Huberta at the Amathole Museum in King William's Town.
The museum is open weekdays 9am - 1pm, 1.45pm - 4.30pm. Sat/public Holidays 10am - 3pm. Closed Sundays.

The museum is also home to the second-largest collection of mammal species in the southern hemisphere. The museum houses exhibits on the history of the town, the 19th century German settlers and Xhosa culture.

See www.amathole.org.za

Where to find it
cnr of Alexander and Albert roads
King William's Town, 5600

Telephone: (043) 642-4506
Fax: (043) 642-1569
email: postmaster@amathole.org.za

For other interesting things to do in King William's Town, visit Buffalo City Tourism

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Eastern Cape Provincial Government
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Border Kei Chamber of Business
East Cape Development Corporation
Buffalo City Development Agency

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