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Teddy Roosevelt Almost Put Hippos in the Bayou

Today I saw this graphic of a hippo and started to think about what butchering one up and eating it would be like. Hippos have a ton of meat on them, it is not all blubber, and actually according to those who have eaten it, very, very, good. 

In the words of author and hunter Peter Hathaway Capstick, “It is my personal opinion that hippo meat is one of the finest of game foods … The taste is mild, less than lamb and more than beef, slightly more marbled than usual venison. It tastes exactly like, well, hippo.”

As I got deeper into the matter I realized that the idea of eating Hippo is not that foreign but actually an extremely American idea. 

So as it goes in 1884 Japanese delegates brought Water Hyacinths to New Orleans as a gift to their problems. In turn, Water Hyacinths went nuts in the Bayou and became a serious invasive species. Which they still are to this day.

So seeing this problem, and seeing a lucrative opportunity, two individuals who at one time were sworn enemies, united in the common goal of making a fortune. You see America was a fast-growing country, the demand for meat was off the charts, meat production was at an all-time high, and one could make a fortune if they could figure out how to produce more meat. Good land was always at a premium, anything you could farm on was valuable. You see Swampland was not profitable. Couldn't raise Cattle, Sheep, or pork there, or even farm there. So what was the solution? 

Karen Paolillo. Shutterstock Images.

Fritz Joubert Duquesne and Frederick Russell Burnham were two former adversaries in the Boer War a long-forgotten skirmish between Dutch Farmer and English Colonists in Africa. There is no way to describe their relationship other than this excerpt from an amazing full write-up on the American Hippos. 

It’s unclear what, if any, contact the two enemies had had in the nine years since they’d fought against each other in Africa. The evidence suggests that Burnham and Duquesne never actually crossed paths during the war—just loomed heavily, and terribly, in each other’s minds. Theirs was an old-fashioned kind of rivalry. What adhered them to one another was a dismaying and unshakable respect, nothing as vulgar as hatred. It involved a bizarre kind of honor; Duquesne remembered that he had once “tossed coins with a brother scout for the privilege of having first shot [at Burnham,] of splitting his body with a bullet,” but had never managed to track the great scout down. Now their inadvertent partnership on the hippopotamus project gave them an opportunity to finally know one another at close range. They’d fought on different sides but were still soldiers—part primitives, deep down—and they were presumably far more comfortable with each other than with the genteel politicians surrounding them.

Basically, these two badasses had united after their warrior years to unite in solving America's meat shortage and making the swampland covered in Hyacinth profitable. Their idea was to put some goddamn Hippos in there and let them eat all the Hyacinth and butcher them up to sell to all the hungry immigrants arriving in the 19th century. In retrospect, this would have probably gone the way of the Marine toad, another invasive creature brought into Australia to deal with another invasive creature… We would have likely had the problems Columbia currently is with Pablo Escobar's old hippos. 

But it would have been pretty freaking cool if Hippo meat, which at the time was dubbed "Lake Cow Bacon", was available in the U.S. The largest factor that may have prevented the Hippo ranching and widespread selling of Hippo meat, was the monopoly held by the large Meat processing companies based out of Chicago and St. Louis. The Hippos were too big to transport to those plants and there would need to be new meat processing factories in Louisiana. The lobbyist terminated the Hippo ranch Idea. But at one point it was raised to the U.S Congress! They shot it down but it was a fun idea to reminisce about. 

I would highly recommend reading the whole story here. As the backstories of Fritz Joubert Duquesne and Frederick Russell Burnham are even wackier and interesting than having Hippos in the Bayou.