Geeks love all kinds of facts and ideas, so weird but true facts shouldn’t be an exception. For example, in the year 1910, there were fears of a meat shortage in the United States. People were worried there wasn’t enough meat to go around, and no one was sure where a larger meat supply would come from.
That would be why the idea of shipping live hippopotami from Africa to free range ranches was actually something people were considering.
This almost certainly sounds like something that was made up. Does anybody actually eat hippo anywhere? But it was true. In 1910, fears of a meat shortage was enough to actually become something that hit the floors of Congress, and a committee hearing was actually held, with experts brought in, on the topic of importing something from another part of the world to become part of the American diet.
Why was there a meat shortage? Overgrazing of grasslands in the West caused a cattle shortage. The American population was booming due to immigration and the other, more old fashioned reason for population increases, with higher concentrations in cities than ever before. There were legitimate concerns there wasn’t enough meat for the American people.
And importing another animal to the United States wasn’t out of the question either. Theodore Roosevelt, while president, tried to import various types of gazelle to let loose on the Great Plains as an additional food source. That plan had been squashed by a political opponent in Congress for petty political reasons, not because that is probably an absurdly bad idea. Many experts had pointed out that the usual food animals–cows, pigs, chickens–had all been imported to the continent in years past and the people got used to eating them, so why not some other animals?
But hippos? Why hippos? Part of the reasoning was the hippos could be free-ranging animals living in the various wetlands of the Gulf Coast, and they could be harvested as needed.
The plan was endorsed by now-private-citizen Roosevelt, and even The New York Times.
Obviously, it didn’t come to pass. But really, this was an idea that was heavily debated and could have come to pass. Since importing foreign animals to ecosystems not designed for them is, like, one of the biggest no-nos to modern environmentalists, it’s probably for the best, and we’re hardly hurting for meat these days.
For more information, see the Amazon Kindle single American Hippopotamus by Jon Mooallem.