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Obaysch: A Hippopotamus in Victorian London tells the remarkable story of Obaysch the hippopotamus, the first 'star' animal to be exhibited in the London Zoo.
In 1850, a baby hippopotamus arrived in England, thought to be the first in Europe since the Roman Empire, and almost certainly the first in Britain since prehistoric times. Captured near an island in the White Nile, Obaysch was donated by the viceroy of Egypt in exchange for greyhounds and deerhounds. His arrival in London was greeted with a wave of 'hippomania', doubling the number of visitors to the Zoological Gardens almost overnight.
Delving into the circumstances of Obaysch's capture and exhibition, John Simons investigates the phenomenon of 'star' animals in Victorian Britain against the backdrop of an expanding British Empire. He shows how the entangled aims of scientific exploration, commercial ambition, and imperial expansion shaped the treatment of exotic animals throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Along the way, he uncovers the strange and moving stories of Obaysch and the other hippos who joined him in Europe as the trade in zoo animals grew.