Michel Jutras Doesn't Win Any Trophies for Cleaning Hippo Teeth, but He Does Get Plenty of Plaque

updated 06/15/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/15/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Without fear of contradiction, it can be said that cleaning a hippopotamus' teeth is a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it. Around the municipal zoo in Granby, Quebec, the job falls to keeper Michel Jutras. Actually Jutras, 33, who's worked in the zoo's pachyderm section for 12 years, rather enjoys scouring the ivories of Patriarche, also 33. "It's a kind of game between them," says zoo veterinarian Clement Lanthier. "He and the animal have a good relationship." That affinity is evident to tourists, who have made Patriarche's brush-ups—which take place once every two days—one of the zoo's most popular attractions.

When the hippo opens wide, it's obvious that more than dental floss will be needed. Jutras uses an industrial-size scrub brush but without the benefit of toothpaste. The zoo's mascot and oldest resident, Patriarche (his name means patriarch) eats sensibly. With his diet of hay and grain, supplemented with minerals and vitamins, his breath isn't too offensive. But his visits with Jutras add an extra sparkle to his smile and—who knows?—may even contribute to his success with the female of his species. "Patriarche," Lanthier says proudly, "has already given us nine babies."

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