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Is that a hippo in your backyard or are you happy to see me?

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SAN DIEGO, California (Reuters) -- California fish and game officials are investigating a San Diego-area man who kept a rare 500-pound pygmy hippopotamus as a pet in his suburban backyard for at least a decade, a newspaper reported Saturday.

Surprised state officials seized the female hippo, believed to be 12 to 15 years old, from Arthur Stehly, a resident of Escondido, who has more than 100 animals living on his property, including emus, peacocks, geese, goats and ducks, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

"I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it," state game warden Zeke Awbrey told the newspaper. "No one expects to find a giant hippo living in someone's backyard."

The newspaper reported that officials were investigating Stehly for allegedly not having a permit to own a hippo. It said officials seized the animal in late January after a tip from a real estate agent showing a nearby home.

Neither the hippo's owner nor fish and game officials could be reached for comment.

The hippo is now at a local center for wild animals and would be shipped on June 1 to a refuge in Florida that houses other pygmy hippos, the newspaper said.

The animals, found along streams, forests and swamps in West Africa, number between 2,000 to 4,000 in the wild.

Neighbors in Escondido, about 30 miles from San Diego, said they had known about the hippo for years but had never seen it, the newspaper said.

"I know he used the hippo manure on his garden," said Bill Ritcher. "It can smell pretty dang bad."

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