Owen & Mzee: The Language of Friendship

by Isabella Hatkoff, Paula Kahumbu, Peter Greste, and Craig Hatkoff

When a baby hippo, orphaned by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004, was placed in a... read more

When a baby hippo, orphaned by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004, was placed in a sanctuary in Mombasa in an enclosure with a 130-year-old giant tortoise named Mzee, scientists and the interested public alike were fascinated with the relationship that developed between the two. The social hippo, now known as Owen, and reclusive tortoise were soon inseparable, whether eating, sleeping, or playing, as related in the authors’ earlier book, Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship (Scholastic Press, 2006). This volume highlights the eighteen months the two animals have spent together since then, and what has been observed in their relationship, with a focus on communication. A growing Owen often acts protective of Mzee, while the tortoise seems to retain dominance over the hippo. Through physical actions (nips, nudges, and squeezes) the two have developed a form of communication. In addition, they both direct an auditory rumbling noise—a vocalization that neither hippos nor tortoises typically produce—towards the other. The text also conveys unanswered questions that the scientists working with the unusual duo entertain, such as whether Owen would be accepted by a pod of hippos, despite some of his tortoise-like behavior. The engaging text is interspersed with large, crisp color photographs. (Ages 5–10)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2008

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