Poetry Friday-Tortoise Family Connections, Owen and Mzee

I was captivated by the story of the orphaned hippo Owen and his tortoise friend Mzee, as described in Owen & Mzee: The True Story Of A Remarkable Friendship (Isabella Hatkoff et al., 2006). In January, Scholastic published a sequel: Owen & Mzee: Language Of Friendship Isabella Hatkoff with Craig Hatkoff and Dr. Paula Kahumb, illustrated by Peter Greste, which I read for the first time a few hours ago. The pictures are even more charming, the story of the communication and affection between hippo and tortoise even more astounding.

The book avoids cloying sentimentality by putting the future of this unusual friendship into question. Owen is still a baby hippo, but as he grows, the risk that he will hurt Mzee unintentionally grows as well. Mzee's shell already has an old injury from being knocked over by a hippo, and the animals' caretakers know that the day may come when they have to put the safety of Mzee before his relationship with Owen. Then Cleo is introduced--she is a 13 year old female hippo, who may win Owen's friendship, even his heart. Will Owen be able to be a hippo, instead of a tortoise? And what will become of Mzee?

Not being one to hang needlessly on cliffs, I did a google search and found a blog written by Stephen Tuei, Owen and Mzee's keeper (that old link wasn't working any more; here's a new link). So now I know what happened, and it is a little sad.

The picture above, showing Owen, Mzee, and another tortoise friend Toto, is from Tuei's blog, where there are lots more great pictures.

On a related note, I also learned that Scholastic has donated 1000 Owen and Mzee books to Kenyan schools. Good for them! They also donate part of the profit from the books to help support the wildlife park.

And to tie it in to Poetry Friday, here's a quote from Tortoise Family Connections, by D.H. Lawrence; the whole poem can be found here.

Father and mother,
And three little brothers,
And all rambling aimless, like little perambulating pebbles scattered in the garden,
Not knowing each other from bits of earth or old tins.

Except that papa and mama are old acquaintances, of course,
Though family feeling there is none, not even the beginnings.
Fatherless, motherless, brotherless, sisterless
Little tortoise.

Row on then, small pebble,
Over the clods of the autumn, wind-chilled sunshine,
Young gaiety.

Does he look for a companion?
No, no, don't think it.
He doesn't know he is alone;
Isolation is his birthright,
This atom.

Indeed, it's easy to comprehend a hippo loving a tortoise, but the idea of a tortoise "loving" a hippo is hard to fathom.


  1. Read more about Owen & Mzee at their blog:


    Join the Owen & Mzee Yahoo Group at:


    See Owen & Mzee Movie trailer:


    Author's fabulous website with movie:


  2. I couldn't get through to the link you provided in your post. Could you tell me what was so sad in the update you read about Own and Mzee? Thanks.

  3. wow, that was a long time ago, and the blog over in Kenya has been updated a lot since then (I've put in a working link to it). I think I was just a bit sad that they couldn't stay together...

  4. OK, thanks for responding. I thought I was missing something in the story and that one of them had died.


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