Shipping a hippo? Uncle Sam can help

July 01, 1999|By Michael Precker | Michael Precker,DALLAS MORNING NEWS

If you need to pack up your hippopotamus, the U.S. government is here to help. Don't forget, says Uncle Sam, soothing hippo music and a 1-pound sedative.

The U.S. Postal Service Web site at www.usps.com includes a section of earnest, useful hints on packing and moving various items you might have around the house.

But right there between Glasses and Teacups ("Put a layer of peanuts or newsprint on the bottom of the box") and Kids' Stuff ("Have your kids seal the boxes and write their names or put their favorite stickers on each box") are instructions for your hippo.

"Fill your tank with 800 gallons of water," the tutelage begins. "Start yesterday."

After you give your hippo a sedative, the government advises, give yourself a couple of aspirin, soothe the beast with music and use a crane to hoist him or her into the tank.

OK so far? "Now go relax in a hot bath before the forklift arrives."

Greg Frey, a spokesman for the Postal Service in Washington was unaware of the hippo-hauling hints. After checking, he phoned back to report that he and his fellow bureaucrats were having a good laugh.

"Moving can be a really stressful thing, Frey says. "You need some comic relief."

He also points out that your friendly mail carrier assumes no responsibility.

"Those instructions are more for movers, not necessarily for the Postal Service," Frey says. "It doesn't say we'll ship the hippo."

Nonetheless, nobody in Washington seems to know how it happened. That part of the Web site, he says, is maintained by Moversnet, a private organization that prepares change-of-address materials for the Postal Service.

Moversnet sells advertising for the material, then provides moving and change-of-address kits to the Postal Service at no cost.

Frey says that when he called the Moversnet office in Memphis, Tenn., regarding the hippos, "I think they thought they were in trouble. It's typical when somebody from Washington calls. They think, `Uh oh.' But that wasn't the case. We're happy to see it generate some interest."

That's good news at Imagitas, a Boston-based information services company that includes Moversnet. Nick Carter, vice president for public affairs, says humor is a "basic tool" in telling people what they need to know.

"About 20 million households move every year," he says. "We hope to make it easy and clear and a little bit of fun."

The Web instructions also include tips for moving your gorilla and your pet rock. But the printed versions available at the post office don't include any wry entries.

"The Net gives you a chance to play a little more," Carter says. He says he's not worried that anybody will be fooled.

"Chances are there isn't a large number of people who have hippos and want to move them," Carter says.

There is at least one. Anita Schanberger, a curator at the Dallas Zoo, has moved two hippos from Houston to Kansas City.

"Forget the tank and the crane and the sedative," she says. "They prefer a very nice trailer, and you can coax them in with good food. Just stop periodically and hose them down. And they'll probably be happy with a companion."

Pub Date: 7/01/99

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