Burnham & Boussard’s Belles


There was an article written by Major Frederick Russell Burnham about importing African animals to the US. It was published in 1910 a few months before the bill was presented to Congress. The goal was to get $250k to import animals to the South and Southwest of America. Burnham’s priority was to provide an ecology boost to help with the meat shortages in those areas. Boussard supported the bill but cared more about getting the animals here for there ecological impact rather than meat.

Boussard especially wanted hippos brought in to the South. Louisiana was experiencing a crisis in it’s waterways due to water hyacinth. It was brought into New Orleans by a Japanese delegation. They were brought as a gift and the New Orleanians(?) flipping loved them. They planted them all over the place. Unfortunately, the invasive species made it into streams and waterways. Clogged them right up. This led to fish dying off and shipping routes to no longer be accessible.

Boussard figured that hippos would solve the problem real good. The War Department had attempted to clear out the hyacinth but it was all back in a month. So, having some hippos there that would be constantly eating the hyacinth seemed to be a perfect solution. They consume up to 80 lbs of grass a day! That’s a lot of hyacinth. They could also be hunted for what would be a lot of meat.

I feel Boussard was being a bit deluded in thinking that the solution to one harmful invasive species was to bring in another one. Particularly one that is so large and capable of travelling miles every night to go looking for food.

Hippos are aggressive herbivores. They can live to about 40, are 9.5 to 14 feet long and can weigh 1.5 to 4 tons! They spend up to 16 hours in water. But, that’s in Africa. Louisiana is not Africa. What behavior changes would living in the relatively mild climate bring on in these giant cuties? Maybe they’d mellow out and not crush other living things in their gigantic maws. Maybe they’d get a super-boost and become even bigger assholes. Who knows?

Some upsides to the hippos would be eating up that hyacinth and digesting it via fermentation. That process leads to the hippos depositing a huge amount of nutrients into rivers and lakes. The fish would be so jazzed! They would also keep the waterways cleared out since they love eating water hyacinth.

The bill failed to pass, though. By just one vote. There’s speculation that it was politically driven by people that opposed Roosevelt and his support of the bill. I’m glad it did. I don’t think bringing over a plethora of invasive species would have gone as we hoped. We could have damaged our ecosystems and introduced new diseases to the animals in those areas.

Visually it would’ve been cool.