Heavy Petting

updated 04/07/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/07/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

If you or someone you know is considering adopting a hippopotamus, you should probably ponder Tony and Elsa Joubert's experience with Jessica, who has been part of their household for three years.

The first thing to remember: Adorable baby hippos like Jessica, who washed up on a riverbank on the Jouberts' 1,000-acre farm in South Africa, grow. A lot. Jessica weighs 3,200 lbs.; barring a sudden fondness for Slim-Fast, she could top out at about 10,000 lbs. And although she's now confined to the porch, Jessica used to have the run of the house, sleeping on the Jouberts' bed—and watching TV—as a baby. "You should see what my house looks like," says Elsa, 48. "I've got no furniture left."

Not only that, says Tony, 56, a former game warden: "Jessica doesn't have good toilet manners; she makes a mess everywhere. When she eats onions, her burps are horrendous."

"And," says Elsa, with a grimace, "my hands and clothes are always sticky from her drooling saliva."

So what do the Jouberts, with three grown children from earlier marriages, get out of their large live-in? "When I ask her for a kiss," says Tony, "she puts her head up. She wags her tail when she is happy." Elsa, who prepares the five daily bottles (coffee: sweet, no milk) that supplement Jessica's grazing, is starting to weary of Jessica—and of Tony's fascination with her. "When Jessica gets bigger," she says, "my husband is going to have to live outside with her."

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