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Tortoise, hippo friendship deepens post tsunami

NEW YORK, March 1 (Reuters Life!) - A giant tortoise and an orphaned baby hippo who forged an unusual friendship after the 2004 tsunami in southeast Asia are the stars of a new Web site so fans can follow their progress.

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Mzee, a 130-year-old Aldabran tortoise, became a surrogate parent and inseparable friend to hippo Owen who was washed out to sea off the coast of Kenya, rescued by villagers and taken to a wildlife park where the tortoise lived.

The devastating Indian Ocean tsunami that hit in December 2004 left 230,000 people killed or missing, including 170,000 in Indonesia.

The animals’ friendship came to international attention when New York-based father and daughter team, Craig and Isabella Hatkoff, teamed up with the park’s chief environmentalist Paula Kahumbu to write a book about the pair, “Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship.”

They have now released a second book, published by Scholastic, chronicling the deepening friendship, with Owen and Mzee living, sleeping and playing together, but also creating a language of their own.

“They have created sounds unique to hippo or to tortoise and use gentle nods and pushes to communicate with one another,” said a spokeswoman from Scholastic which has just released

“Owen & Mzee: The Language of Friendship.”

The second installment in the animals’ story follows their remarkable friendship at Haller Park Animal Sanctuary nearMombasa, Kenya, which is operated by Lafarge EcoSystems, a unit of Kenyan cement maker Bamburi.

But as well as updating readers on the friendship, Hatkoff’s publishing company, Turtle Pond Publications, this week also launched Web site to update fans on the animals with a weekly blog from caretaker Stephen Tuei.

“Their true story that borders on the unbelievable teaches us many beautiful lessons on many levels,” said Hatkoff in a statement.

“The Web site allows us to continually update the public on the pair’s current developments and offers kids new set of online creativity resources and applications at the same time.”