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Karen Paolillo, Turgwe Hippo Trust


Karen Paolillo was born in England and was genetically dispositioned to love animals - her father was a vet and her mother was the manager of a small zoo in Bedfordshire.

   As an adult, Karen’s dream to move to Africa to live and work with wild animals became a reality, and she ended up in Zimbabwe. She was the first woman to obtain the National Parks Professional Guide's licence, which gave her the chance to lead tourists around the Gonarezhou National Park and the south-east lowveld of Zimbabwe.

   Once married, she left Africa to move to Holland with her French geologist husband, before moving to Gabon in West Africa, then eventually returning to Zimbabwe in 1990. Interestingly, she ended up back exactly where she started - the south-east lowveld.

   Then one day, they were camping above the Turgwe River during the worst drought in the history of the area. It was then a cattle ranching and game area, and Karen asked the land owners if she could somehow help the Turgwe hippos. The owner was feeding his rhinos but could not help all the other game, so Karen took it upon herself to raise enough funds, with the help of the British animal charity, Care for the Wild, to feed the last Turgwe hippos in their natural habitat. This was something that had never been done on a long-term basis before.

   The couple also designed and built a cemented pan that was large enough to sustain those hippos when the entire Turgwe River system dried up. They installed a 19-kilometre pipeline to their neighbours’ boreholes to pump water into this cemented pan. As a result, every hippo that she fed survived, and two even managed to conceive. And so began the Turgwe Hippo Trust, which has continued since that time to take care of the hippos in the region.