Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Legend of the Pygmy Hippo

A long, long time ago time ago a magnificent species walked the earth. It was found only on a small island in the Mediterranean, the island of Malta. Long separated from its mainland parents these animals evolved having a unique trait, they were 1/3 the size of their parents. These were in fact, pygmy hippos. Known as Hippopotamus melitensis, they stood only 80 cm high. Plagued by the incidence of insular dwarfism, evolution of a smaller species due to land restriction, their isolation has made them unique. Having first arrived on the land we now Malta by crossing the land bridge during the ice age, they became isolated once this disappeared. These hippos existed during the Pleistocene (2,588,000 to 12,000 years BC), long before the building of the oldest stone structure in the world, the Ggantija Temples, found on the island of Gozo.

We were privileged enough to explore these temples on Tues, March 8th. The temples themselves had something in common with the hippos - they were much smaller in person than they appeared in pictures. Constructed to represent the earth mother, the two temples consist of multiple round open rooms. The pictures of these temples show these multiple circular rooms for worship - an intriguing pattern when viewed from above. This construction is an incredible feat as some of the larger stones weigh many tons, and were assembled to their present position through human strength and early innovation.

I was most impressed with how well these structures have held up considering they were built 5,800 years ago. Despite the wearing of the stone, and age the of evidence (and removal to museum sites), the unique features were still visible even to my untrained eyes. I could see how the location was a place of peace, offering a beautiful view overlooking the island, tall green grass all around, and an amazingly beautiful structure to offer up worship. I would have loved to find a small area of the temple to curl up and read a good book, enjoying the clean air and sunshine.

It is unfortunate that the people who built the Ggantija Temples did not have a chance to interact with the pygmy hippos as they became extinct long before evidence of any human life on Malta. However, these magnificently small animals were companioned on the island by another small creature - the pygmy elephant, Elephas falconeri, whose story is similar to that of the hippo, and stood only 90 cm high.

We were first told about these unique creatures during Timmy's visit to San Luis Obispo, CA. He warned us, "Watch out! You might see them roaming the land." Little did I know, it is only Timmy who has the power to awaken the ancient species. As I began to visualize these two species, a vision of epic hippo and elephant battles danced in my head. Now, I'm not going to lie - even though I knew it was never possible - I had high hopes for seeing these elephants and hippos roaming through the streets of Valletta, or tromping through the countryside. And to my disappointment - I have yet to see any hippos or elephants.

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