U.S. Hippo Ranches and Lake Cow Bacon

On March 24, 1910, Congressman Robert Broussard of Louisiana sponsored a debate on a bill he had introduced. HR 23261 "For the Transport of African Animals," was soon known as "The Hippo Bill" because it included a plan to import hippopotamuses to Louisiana. There the "Lake Cows" would graze on invasive water hyacinths that were choking the waterways and killing off fish and the livelihoods of fishermen. People in turn would eat the hippos, solving the meat shortage the world had been struggling with for years. It was a "two-birds with one stone" solution that even President Teddy Roosevelt backed. The bill proposed appropriating $250,000 to import a wide variety of African animals suited to different American environments. It was supported by the testimony of a number of notable men. William Irwin "W.N." Irwin was a researcher with the US Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Plant Industry. He noted that in the past, the United States had dealt with shortages by expanding to the west. But with the frontier closed and nowhere further to expand, the country must now figure out how to turn the unproductive deserts and swamps into areas that would provide food for a rapidly expanding population. He told the listening Congressmen, "We ought to have more creatures than we are raising here." He told the Washington Post, " I hope to live long enough

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4 thoughts on “U.S. Hippo Ranches and Lake Cow Bacon

  1. This is a terrible idea, hippos and such megafauna are extremely dangerous, they kill hundreds in Africa annually. Hippos also do not eat when they are in the water, they move onto land every night and graze in grasses and crops… another reason why its a bad idea, hippos are notoriously aggressive and there WILL be clashes between farmers and such animals. These hippos will also overturn boats, reduce the water quality and are known to create soil erosion and such problems with their frequently used paths.

    What is my experience? I was born and still live in Africa, I have a degree in zoology and I have worked with these animals in the wild. Hippos in particular will be a negative species to introduce. Rhinos will be poached for their horns which will be sold on the middle eastern market and giraffes can also be dangerous. They have a kick strong enough to kill a lion. If you do not believe me research any of these facts yourself.

    These simple two birds with one stone solutions are often unfounded and poorly thought out.

    1. See what people didn’t know back in 1910 when they were thinking about this?! And even today, I didn’t know that hippos don’t eat while they’re in the water. Meanwhile, here is a picture of a hippo that was part of the campaign to show folks back in the early 1900s that hippos were docile and easy to manage. What stories we tell ourselves! 🙂
      Hippo being weighed and measured

    2. If you’re looking to domesticate a landscape and exterminate everything that won’t be subjugated, you have a point. On the other hand, we have managed to make room for bison, bears, moose, elk, and alligators and feel privileged to still have them with us, both for the ways they benefit and maintain the environment and for the grandeur they lend to the natural world.

  2. This is similar to what scientists like the late Paul S. Martin advocated for rewilding North America with megafauna to replace the many species of mammoth, mastodon, giant ground sloths, camels, giant beavers, etc., etc. that went extinct 10 to 12 thousand years ago. I don’t know about the domesticability of hippos, but repopulating the landscape with large mammals to take the place of those lost seems like a noble and exciting project.

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