Image: Hippos
Risto Bozovic  /  AP
Female Nikica, left, and male Lucky hippopotamuses in a private zoo at the Skadar Lake.
updated 1/14/2010 3:40:45 PM ET 2010-01-14T20:40:45

A 2-ton hippo who escaped from a flooded private zoo in Montenegro was roaming free Wednesday but returning to the zoo owner's restaurant to eat bread and hay.

Officials disagreed over whether to kill the hippo, considered one of the world's most dangerous species. Nikica, 11, escaped this week as heavy rains sent water flooding through the zoo, raising the water level in her pen and allowing her to swim over the top of the cage surrounding it.

A spokesman for Montenegro's natural disasters commission, which responds to floods, said the law required animals that can endanger human lives to be killed. But state veterinary authorities said they were not entitled to kill animals.

Zoo owner Dragan Pejovic insisted Nikica is not dangerous, "unless someone attacks and kicks her."

He said her movements are being tracked by the zoo's private security and that she is "tame and peaceful".

Pejovic added that Nikica now had nowhere to return since the zoo, on a small island in a lake south of the capital, remains flooded. She was being fed with loaves of bread and bales of hay at a swimming pool of a restaurant owned by Pejovic and his brother.

Hippos, native to Africa, are the third-largest land animals, after elephants and white rhinos. They can weigh up to 3 1/2 tons and are plant eaters. They are also intelligent, fiercely territorial, can run faster than the average human over short distances, and have powerful teeth and jaws.

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