On this particular Monday morning, Moose and Goose (private investigators and solvers of tricky problems) were sitting in their office, each sipping a cup of Orange Blossom tea, when the phone rang.
Moose answered it, “Hello”.
“Is that Moose and Goose?”
“Yes”, said Moose.
“This is Sammy”.
(At this point, its worth knowing a bit about Sammy. He is a very successful entrepreneur in the town, who owns several of the businesses there. Full name, Sammy Seagull. Most people assumed that was just a nickname, but Moose and Goose were among the very few people who knew that Sammy was, in fact, a seagull… Don’t ask. Its too complicated to explain.)
“I have a tricky problem for you. Are you available?” “Yes”, said Moose, clicking his fingers at Goose as he switched on the speakerphone.
“It’s the zoo”, said Sammy. “The pygmy hippos are being attacked by nasty, bitey, buzzy flies. They don’t like it. We don’t like it. The visitors don’t like it. And we are out of ideas. Can you help?”
“We certainly can”, said Goose, “for a small fee”.
“Ah, you mean £100 per day?” asked Sammy, hopefully.
“Actually, that would be £200 per day plus expenses”, smiled Goose.
“Ok”, sighed Sammy, “It’s a deal”.
Moose and Goose then did what they always do in cases like this: they went and had a look, on their bicycles.
Leaving their bicycles by the zoo gate, they wandered round the zoo to the hippo enclosure. Their friend, the zoo keeper, Reginald, came up to them to say hello, having been warned by Sammy that Moose and Goose were coming.
It was quite upsetting watching the hippos trying to hide from the flies which swarmed above them. Hippos can stay underwater for a long time, but they have to come up to breathe eventually. When they did, the flies buzzed into their nostrils, and the hippos coughed and spluttered and sneezed and shook their heads and disappeared underwater again as quickly as they could.
Moose and Goose discussed with Reginald what ideas had been tried to stop the flies.
He counted them off with his fingers:
- Nets. They don’t work. Flies always seem to find a way in. Once one fly is in, they all get in.
- Fly spray. Nope. Too dangerous for the other animals, especially the hippos.
- Fly swatters. Nope. Too tiring. The keepers can’t stand round the hippo enclosure all day waving fly swatters.
Moose and Goose made a few suggestions of their own.
“How about releasing birds above the hippo pool?”
“Nope, they would fly away”.
“How about a fan to blow them away?”
“Hm, interesting, but nope. We don’t want any electrical appliances near the water.”
“How about using nets to keep the birds near the pool?”
“Nope. The birds might get hurt flying into the netting.”
Moose and Goose went for a walk around the zoo, looking for inspiration. Soon they came to the amphibian section. Aha, frogs or toads. They could eat the flies. But no, they wouldn’t be able to reach the flies out over the water.
Next, they came to the aquarium. Lots of colourful fish, then one with a grand name, Siamese Archer fish. Double aha. These clever fish squirt water into the air to knock insects off bushes near the river, and eat them when they land in the water.
Moose and Goose brought Reginald over and suggested putting these fish in the pool with the hippos. Nope. The hippos would eat the fish.
So Moose and Goose carried on strolling, looking for other ideas, but they kept coming back to the Archer fish. Was there maybe a way of making it safe for the fish in the hippo pool?
Only one thing for it: a cup of tea in the café, the notebook, and some brainstorming. Reginald joined them, looking forward to what was about to happen. He remembered the last time Moose and Goose had thrown ideas round like crazy. It was fun.
- Tie each hippo’s mouth shut. (Reginald glared at Moose and Goose.)
- Make the Archer fish taste really horrible by painting them in pepper sauce.
- Put only the fastest Archer fish in the pool so they can swim away from the hippos.
- Have each fish in a plastic bag floating in the pool.
- Have half the pool for hippos and half the pool for the fish
- Put an archer fish in a fishbowl on the back of each hippo. (Hm, Moose frowned. There was something interesting here.)
- Put each hippo in a big fish bowl and let the fish swim around safely in the pool. (Nope. That wasn’t it).
- Have a big, strong fish container in the middle of the pool, for the fish. (Aha!).
- With an open top, the fish could squirt at the flies, and the hippos could not get to the fish.
Moose, Goose and Reginald looked at each other, grinning. This might work. Reginald dashed off to the aquarium. Half an hour later, he arrived with a large, empty fish tank on the back of a trolley.
They all walked round to the hippo enclosure. Reginald gently lowered the fish tank, which was made from a very strong, clear plastic, onto the pool. Slowly, it began to fill up and sink. Soon it was resting on the bottom of the pool. One hippo paddled around, poking it with its nose. This was interesting. The others stayed where they were, hiding from the flies.
Reginald went back to the aquarium and emerged with a plastic bag filled with water and a few Archer fish. The bag was left sitting in the fish tank in the hippo pool to let the temperature of the water in the bag slowly change to be the same as the pool (otherwise it might shock the fish if they were poured straight out into cold water).
Gently, the bag was opened, and the Archer fish swam round looking bewildered. A few minutes later, the Archer fish settled down and explored their tank. They soon saw the hippo who was staring at them through the side of the tank. As the hippo rose up to the surface to get some fresh air, the Archer fish followed it up.
The flies attacked the hippo immediately. It coughed and spluttered and sneezed and shook its head and disappeared underwater again as quickly as it could. The Archer fish stayed at the surface, focusing on the flies. Suddenly, quick as a blink, there was a squirt, splat, tumble, splash, gulp. It was not clear that anything had happened, except one Archer fish swam slowly away, chewing something.
Then again, a squirt, splat, tumble, splash, gulp, and this time Moose, Goose and Reginald saw the fly land in the water to be gulped down by one of the fish. The hippo saw it too. It looked at the flies, buzzing above the water. It looked at the fish, all lined up watching the flies.
This was a smart hippo. Slowly, watching the fish, the hippo surfaced. Squirt, squirt, squirt, splat, splat, splat, tumble, tumble, tumble, splash, splash, splash, gulp, gulp, gulp. And there were not many flies left. Lots more squirting followed. The hippo stayed there while the Archer fish finished off all the flies.
The other hippos were watching this and drifting closer to the tank before popping up right next to it, giving it a good, satisfying rub. They then paddled over to the beach and went for a walk on the grass round the pool. No flies bothered them for several minutes. The hippos made the kind of quiet noises that happy hippos make.
Some more flies buzzed over and the hippos ran back into the water. Some of them dove underwater, but the clever one just paddled over to the tank and waited. Squirt, splash, tumble, gulp. It came out again with not a fly to be seen. Ah, this was the life.
Mission successful for Moose and Goose. They enjoyed wandering round the zoo for a while before returning to their office.
A few days later, Sammy settled the bill. And let them know that Reginald had lowered the fish tank by a few inches so the fish could swim out if they chose, but could always get back in to safety if they were worried. The hippos however, showed no signs of wanting to eat the fish. They liked the no-fly zone over their pool too much.
Squirt Splat Tumble Splash Gulp
(from The Moose and Goose Stories)
by Chris Gathercole
published: 28 September 2011
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