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KIBOKO'S FUR COAT

Many, many years ago, long before you or I, or even our great-grandparents, were born, there was a time when hippos did not live in the water as they do now. Instead, they lived in the African wilds in the company of the other animals.

Would you believe it if I told you that in those days, Kiboko, the hippo, was the handsomest of all the animals? You might find it hard to relate this with his present ugly appearance, but yes, it is true! Those were the days when he sported a wonderful thick coat of soft brown fur. Nor was this his only claim to beauty; he also had a pair of long, silky ears and a magnificent bushy tail. So you can imagine that he was very good-looking indeed!

Unfortunately, Kiboko's nature was not half as beautiful as his appearance! His problem was that he was extremely vain. The other animals praise for his beauty had turned his head, and he now believed that he was the greatest animal in the jungle! He had become obsessed with his looks and would spend hours at the river every day, feasting his eyes upon his own reflection and turning his body this way and that to admire himself from every angle.

One day, as he was majestically ambling towards the river as usual, who should he meet en route but Kalulu, the rabbit! Conceited about his own beauty, he felt pity for the rabbit who (he thought) was so ugly. Forgetting all his manners, he condescendingly declared- "Poor Kalulu; I feel sorry for you! How ridiculous you look with your coarse coat, over-long ears, twitchy nose and that ugly short tail! And your clumsy hopping gait, too! I'm so glad I don't look like you!"

Kalulu was so angry that words failed him. How dare the arrogant hippo talk to him like that! Without pausing to retort, he hopped away, thinking, "Just you wait, Kiboko! I'll teach you a lesson you won't forget in a hurry!"

Blissfully unaware of the fact that he had just earned himself a dangerous enemy, Kiboko lumbered on to the river, where he gloated over his reflection, saying to himself, "Indeed I'm lucky. How elegant-looking I am – so unlike that ugly hare!"

Meanwhile, back home, Kalulu was thinking furiously of how best he could avenge his humiliation. Soon, an idea struck him.

He quickly busied himself collecting a pile of soft, dry grass, which he tied into a bundle.

That evening, he visited Kiboko as if nothing had happened. In a tone brimming with adulation, he humbly addressed him thus, "Kiboko! You are the pride and glory of our jungle. The winter is almost here. I'm worried about you. You know, it is all right for us ordinary folks, but a magnificent animal like you should not spoil his superb body by sleeping on the cold, hard ground! Please accept this gift from me. It is a bed of soft grass for you to sleep on."

Foolish Kiboko puffed up with the pride on hearing the praise. Without in the least suspecting anything amiss, he accepted the bundle and haughtily declared, "Indeed, it is the duty of you all to ensure that my beauty is maintained, and I am glad to see that you, for one, are aware of your responsibility! Thanks!"

On hearing this, Kalulu nearly choked with fury. Really, was there no limit to the fool's pride? "Just wait awhile, Mr. Handsome, and see what happens!" he said to himself, and took leave of Kiboko as graciously as he could.

Eager to try out his soft new bed, Kiboko spread it out at once in the usual place. "Hmmm….soft and comfortable! Nothing less than what I deserve!" he commented as he lay down upon it. Moments later, he was snoring away to glory.

Meanwhile, Kalulu ran to the village adjoining the forest. At the centre of the village, he found a large fire, which had just been extinguished. However, a few live coals remained on the edge. No one was about, and he quickly grabbed the lumps and put them into a broken pot which was lying nearby. He then dashed back into the jungle with the pot.

He found Kiboko still snoring away in his warm, soft bed. Kalulu crept up to him noiselessly and dropped the glowing coal lumps on the dry grass.

It was a windy night and a strong breeze soon began blowing. It was not long before the sparks from the coal, fanned by the breeze, turned into a conflagration!

Kiboko woke up with a start, to find flames all around him and over him. Panic-stricken, he trashed about wildly, trying to beat out the flames. But it was of no use – his magnificent fur coat was soon burning like a brand. In great agony, he raced towards the river.

Kalulu was standing by, watching the spectacle. He leapt out of the way just in time, as Kiboko in his mad rush nearly crashed into him.

Kiboko reached the river and leapt headlong into the cool water. Relief came only when he held his breath and dived below the surface. The flames were put out, and the cold water felt good against his burning skin. He lay there for a long time, letting the soothing sensation wash over him.

Hours later, Kiboko climbed out of the water, feeling sore and painful all over, and very furious. "Where's that devil of a rabbit?" he roared. "Let me just get hold of him, and I'll give him the hiding of his life!"

However, before going in search of Kalulu, Kiboko had to first look at his reflection, to find out the extent of the damage caused by the fire. He peeped down at the water – and what an awful shock he got!

Staring back at him from the clear water was a pinkish-grey, wrinkled, bald creature! Unable to believe his eyes, poor Kiboko gaped in stupefaction. His lovely fur coat – the envy of the whole jungle – was gone! His beautiful bushy tail was burnt to a stump! Ugly, round, small pink ears poked out where his long silky ones used to be! Without his handsome fur coat, his legs looked short and stubby and his body looked bulky and obese. He looked…positively ugly!

Kiboko burst into a loud wail. He had been so proud of his looks, and this was the worst possible fate that could have befallen him. Heart-broken, he fled back into the water to hide his body from anyone who might see him. Crying and howling in shame, he lowered himself beneath the surface so that only his eyes and nostrils could be seen.

From then on, he remained in the water. His descendants followed suit. That is why, even today you find the hippopotamus always immersed in water. Only at night, when he is sure that no one is watching, does this once magnificent animal come out to walk and graze at the edge of the forest. A heavy price, indeed, that poor Kiboko paid for his vanity!

Moral: Do not be vain about your beauty.

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