This Europe: Hippos surface as latest asset in tourist trade

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The Independent Online

There's a new attraction at Lake Skadar in the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro: hippos.

There's a new attraction at Lake Skadar in the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro: hippos.

The resort, already renowned for its rare birds and fish, is now home to Nikica and Lucky, two hippos that will eventually be part of a zoo.

Their owner, Dragan Pejovic, said: "They are very funny in the summer, when they just pop up from under the water, water-lilies on their heads. They seem clumsy, but they are very smart animals."

Mr Pejovic and his brother are planning to open a zoo at this picturesque lake, about six miles south of the republic's capital, Podgorica. For now, there are several boars, a couple of deer and a wolf.

Nikica, a female, arrived a year ago as a gift from Belgrade zoo. The brothers bought Lucky, a male, from Vienna a few months ago. The hippos live in an enclosed area of the lake and have quickly adapted and won affection from locals and tourists alike. "Nikica used to wait for returning fishermen, her mouth wide open so they would feed her," Mr Pejovic said.

Lake Skadar, the biggest lake in the Balkans, straddles the border with Albania. It is the region's largest swamp and features a large bird refuge that includes a pelican reserve.

Montenegro, which has mountains and a coastline along the Adriatic, is hoping to boost the number of overseas visitors by promoting its pristine natural scenery.

Tourism suffered during a decade of wars in the region prompted by the break-up of Yugoslavia. But Montenegro, which has a population of 600,000, hopes that trend will now be reversed.

Dragan Jelusic, head of Montenegro's tourist association, said: "Foreign tourists are coming back. We expect this trend to continue and to see some investment."