How America Came Close to Raising Hippos to Combat Meat Shortage

Prateek Dasgupta
HippopotamusPhoto byWikimedia

In 1884, the Cotton States Exposition in New Orleans introduced North America to the captivating water hyacinth. With its enchanting purple flowers and glossy leaves, people hailed the plant as the future of ornamental gardening.

Little did anyone know that this innocent beauty would unleash havoc on waterways across the South. Efforts to eradicate the hyacinth proved futile, and a crisis loomed as inexpensive meat became scarce in the United States.

Louisiana Representative Robert F. Broussard believed he had the solution: hippopotamus ranching.

On March 24, 1910, Broussard proposed his “American Hippo Bill” to the House Committee on Agriculture. He argued that importing hippos from Africa would rid Louisiana and Florida of the hyacinth infestation while providing a plentiful source of meat.

The bill envisioned introducing various non-native animal species to the American landscape, transforming the country’s food supply.

Supporters rallied behind the plan, including former President Theodore Roosevelt, who saw the potential in hippos.

But, concerns arose about the feasibility of containing these massive animals and their impact on the environment.

Hippos, known for their aggression and deadly encounters with humans, presented a serious threat if they were to escape.

The proposed solution of feeding them water hyacinths was ill-advised since the plant offered little nutritional value.

Despite the excitement generated by the American Hippo Bill, the committee rejected it.

The outbreak of World War I and changing societal circumstances shifted priorities away from such endeavors. Broussard, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1914, passed away before he could reintroduce the bill.

In the end, the American Hippo Bill became a forgotten chapter in U.S. history. The nation adapted to meat shortages through new technologies and increased efficiency in meat production.

The idea of populating the country with exotic animal species faded away, and the dream of “lake cow bacon” never materialized.

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