Do hippos dream? It was a question I found myself pondering when I happened across Tadpole, a 40-year-old Nile hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius), taking an afternoon nap on the beach in his outdoor habitat at the Birmingham Zoo. This elder statesman of the zoo is one of the more beloved animals in residence and is wise enough to appreciate a nice day during the ever-changing weather of an Alabama spring. With a warm breeze rustling through the trees and cirrus clouds streaming high overhead, this really was the perfect afternoon for naps and daydreams.

Looking at Tadpole’s peacefully slumbering face, it is almost possible to forget that Nile hippopotamus have a reputation as the most dangerous animals in Africa. Despite the threat hippos can pose to humans, it is the threat humans pose to hippos that is truly concerning. The insatiable demand for ivory has driven poachers to target Nile hippopotamus teeth as a less-protected source of ivory. As a result, wild populations of hippos are increasingly vulnerable to extinction.

It has been a joy to get to know and work with Tadpole since my arrival at the Birmingham Zoo. Hopefully, conservation efforts will lead to increasing protection of hippopotamus, ensuring that future generations can continue to share the planet with these wonderful, dreamy animals.

If you are ever in Alabama, stop by the Birmingham Zoo to see Tadpole and the other 700 animal that make their home here.

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