This story struck me as relevant to the discussion that we just had in class about strict liability for wild animals. The common law makes a possessor of a wild animals strictly liable for any bites or injuries. This liability is often based on the lack of animus rivertendi, or habit of return — the notion that you cannot completely domesticate a wild animal. That is a lesson that Marius Els, 41, learned too late in keeping his pet hippopotamus, Humphrey.
Els raised Humphrey the Hippo since the animal was five months old and built him a special pool in South Africa. He told people that Humphrey was “Humphrey’s like a son to me, he’s just like a human.” Not quite. Els’ mutilated body was found submerged in a river on his 400-acre farm with telltale marks of a hippo attack.
The article below shows Els riding the bull hippo and saying “there’s a relationship between me and Humphrey and that’s what some people don’t understand.” It was apparently a relationship that Humphrey did not fully understand either. Hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal. They weigh up to 8000 pounds and can gallop at 18 m.p.h. They are often covered in scars that bear witness to the violent lives of these animals.
The issue in torts is often whether a person or company possesses a wild animal on their property. This was the issue in Woods-Leber v Hyatt Hotels of Puerto Rico (1997), Hyatt was found not to be strictly liable for an attack on its grounds by a rabid mongoose on a guest. It was not viewed as possessing the animal since wild animals could move freely on to the property. The same issue came up recently in the United States in the case of the woman who had her face ripped off by a neighbor’s pet chimpanzee and a case in Arizona involving a javelina.
Here Els clearly possessed the animal and would have been liable for any injuries to others, including a recent incident where Humphrey chased two people up a tree. Els insisted he was just hungry.
Source: Daily Mail