A Plan to Bring Hippopotamuses to Abbeville? It’s True
Taking a look into events of the past can be very depressing, but a conversation we had with UL Lafayette history professor Bob Carriker brought to light a tale about Abbeville and a plan some people considered to bring hippopotamuses to the town. This is a fun look back at history. It's interesting to think about what was happening in Abbeville in 1910.
Now, you are probably asking yourself why in the world would someone in the town of Abbeville consider bringing hippopotamuses to town. Carriker says all of it starts with a plant that produces a beautiful flower. While the flowers are beautiful, the Water Hyacinth species is invasive once introduced. We are still dealing with this issue today. It starts growing, and it doesn't stop.
So now you're probably wondering how did the water hyacinth get here? And how do hippos connect to this story? It begins in 1884 when the World Cotton Exchange was held in New Orleans. At this exposition, there was a booth from Japan displaying the water hyacinth. If you have never seen the flowers from the plant then you are missing out. These plants make beautiful purple and pink flowers.
Once the flowers were shown in New Orleans, they became a hit in Louisiana. They sprung up everywhere! The problem? The lily-pad-like stems of the plant start to take over any body of water they grow in. They choke bodies of water. This choking is a problem for people that use our waterways for fishing, shrimping, crabbing, moving goods, etc. Something had to be done!
Enter Louisiana Congressman Robert Broussard. Locals who were worried about all of this water hyacinth beseeched Congressman Broussard to help. As the story goes, the idea was to bring in hippopotamuses to eat the water hyacinth. Sounds like a great idea right? Well, not so much as the hippopotamuses are large creatures who would then procreate and overrun the waterways! And, the thought of a giant hippo chasing after people sounds like some horror movie plot. But some people wanted Congressman Broussard to get funding from Congress for this idea.
Carriker says while the idea was popular there were discussions about what could be made from the hippopotamuses if they were hunted. They touted the idea of using the blubber of the hippopotamus for cooking oil, oil to light lamps, perfume oil, and the like. The suggestion was also made that they would be a huge source of meat just like cattle. Hippopotamus burger, anyone? Hippopotamus head cheese?
Folks in the area had been using their own method of trying to get rid of the water hyacinth, but it was rather tedious and time-consuming. They would attach their huge fighting nets to their boats and catch the hyacinth, but you can imagine that was probably exhausting. So, many implored the Congressman for help.
There was a rule push for this idea. Businessmen were looking for investors.
Broussard even had the idea of introducing water buffalo in the area. The same scenario. They would let the water buffalo eat the water hyacinth then people would hunt the water buffalo and use the rest of the creatures for products. At least that seems like it would be more tolerable than hippos. I've had buffalo, and it's delicious. It's also very lean meat.
Thankfully, at some point, common sense made its way into the process, and the plan was abandoned. I would like to personally thank the cattle farmers for banding together to put a halt to Broussard's funding plans. The funding never materialized, and hippopotamuses were not introduced into Louisiana.
Can you imagine if Acadiana was full of water buffalo and hippopotamuses? I have to admit, it seems fun to think about. Think of all the great festivals we could have had if we had hippos just running around south Louisiana!
A special thanks to Bob Carriker for reminding us just how much fun Louisiana history can be! And just for fun, click here!
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