‘I found myself holding hands with a baboon’ – Read an excerpt from Hippos, a Mongoose and Me by Karen Paolillo
 More about the book!

Penguin Random House has shared an excerpt from Hippos, a Mongoose and Me, the new book by Karen Paolillo!

Hippos, a Mongoose and Me is a collection of vivid stories reflecting the decades that Paolillo has lived and worked in the wilds of south-east Zimbabwe.

The tales encompass a wide variety of animals and experiences, including Paolillo’s extraordinary affinity with hippos, life with her beloved mongoose, characterful baboons and rescued birds, close encounters with lions, and her heart-stopping flight from an enraged elephant.

To add to the drama, Paolillo and her husband Jean-Roger must face off against the drumbeat of political subterfuge and poaching of wildlife, sometimes at great personal risk.

Inspiring, surprising and sometimes sad, this heartfelt anthology is testament to the courage and resilience of its intrepid author.

Read an excerpt:


One day Yogi, a very large male baboon, came into the homestead carrying a poacher’s wire snare. It was tightly attached to his lower body, cutting into his genitals and, if not removed, it would ultimately kill him. I managed to contact a colleague in the north of the Conservancy, Dr Rosemary Groom, who … has a drugs licence, so she would be able to shoot a tranquilliser and we would, hopefully, be able to remove the snare embedded in Yogi’s torso. Rosemary and her colleague Jessica arrived and it was time to try to dart Yogi … through the large holes in the wire that enclosed the garage. I talked to Yogi as she took aim, and boof, off went the dart straight into his side and, within a very short time, he was staggering around and then slowly he collapsed to the ground.

We entered the garage with me going first, as naturally Rosemary and Jess were very aware of the reputation of baboons – and Yogi was a large male with huge teeth. Nobody need have worried as he was completely unconscious. The first job was to cover his eyes to protect them from drying out and then get to the important part of cutting off the wire. It was deeply embedded into his stomach area, but fortunately had not penetrated the lining or cut into his intestines … he can’t have been carrying the snare for too long. I just wondered how he had managed to break the wire and get away from the area where the snare was set. Thanks to his intelligence and immense strength he had taken a first step towards saving his life, but had we not been able to remove the snare it would still have killed him: it was deeply embedded, probably as a result of his struggle to free himself. Once the wire was cut away, Rosemary and Jessica cleaned the wound, spraying it with gentian violet and giving him a jab of a quick-acting antibiotic.

They told me it should take him an hour or so to wake and be fully mobile again, so it was best to keep him in the garage until he could move around normally.

The other males and the entire troop were by now all in the vicinity and paying close attention to what we were up to … I was worried they were going to try to get at him in the garage, as one of the traits of baboons is that they can be exceedingly jealous. If they thought he was getting preferential treatment they might try to intervene. Maybe I didn’t give them enough credit for their sensitivity as all of them were just hanging around watching, but without any form of threat or excitement. So, after thanking Rosemary and Jess profusely, I went back into the garage and joined Yogi to wait for him to wake up. Once he was sitting in an upright position and looking more alert I opened the gate and then sat outside and waited for him to be ready to walk out.

Eventually, after another hour or so, he did just that, but the amazing thing was that he seemed to want to have closer contact with me. This was something he had never done before. I fetched him one of our apples, cutting it into slices, and handed him a piece. I didn’t expect him to take it physically – I would usually have to throw food towards him – but no, he not only took a slice from me but then he put it in his mouth and took hold of my hand and for seconds I found myself holding hands with a baboon.

Extracted from Hippos, a Mongoose and Me by Karen Paolillo, available in South Africa from January 2024. eBook available from mid-January 2024.

Categories International Non-fiction South Africa

Tags Book excerpts Book extracts Hippos a Mongoose and Me Karen Paolillo Penguin Random House SA

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