Once widespread across of Africa and beyond Hippos have faced persecution and are now almost entirely restricted to protected wildlife areas. In prehistoric Britain hippos would have been a common sight along with lions and elephants. Their remains have been discovered underneath Trafalgar Square.
Nothing beats arriving at a waterhole and sitting in silence listening the various calls from the wild and suddenly realising that what appears to be rocks in the water are actually; hippos. Off course they can be very noisy and boisterous, ‘honking’ and ‘grunting’, especially when the bulls are marking their territory
The hippopotamus is regarded as the most dangerous animal in Africa. Hippos kill around 500 people a year. The animals are particularly dangerous at night – especially if you are caught between the water and the hippo – when they are out of the water grazing. Their huge teeth can inflict mortal wounds.
There are two types of Hippo found in Africa, the Common Hippo and the Pygmy Hippo. The Common Hippo: weighs in at around 1.4 to 5 tons, while the substantially smaller Pygmy Hippo at just 160 to 275 kilograms (352-606 pounds). Unlike the gregarious Common Hippo, the Pygmy Hippo is found in limited ranges in West Africa, it is a shy, solitary forest dweller, and is now endangered.
In South Africa you will only find the Common Hippo, its large 2 to 5 meters in length (6 to 16.5 feet) and stands about 1.5 meters tall (5 feet). With a lifespan of around 40 – 50 years in the wild, they are at home in wetlands, rivers, dams and swamps.
The ISimangaliso Wetland Park in KwaZulu Natal is home to the largest population of Hippo in the wild. Most national Parks and Game Reserves in South Africa have populations of Hippo.
These herbivorous munch through a surprising small amount of food for their size, consuming just 1–1.5 per cent of their body weight every day.
15 Interesting Facts About Hippos
- Hippos can’t swim or float, they stand on surfaces below the water like sandbanks. Hippo run along the river bottom instead of swimming;
- A Hippo can hold its breath for around seven minutes, but will normally resurface every three to five minutes to breathe;
- While asleep a Hippo will automatically surface to breathe without waking;
- Hippos can close their nostrils and ears to prevent water from entering;
- The Hippo spends most of the day in water to protect their sensitive skin from the sun;
- Hippos secrete an oily red substance that acts as a moisturiser, sunblock and protects them from germs. This also makes them look like they are sweating blood;
- An open mouth is not a yawn, but rather a sign to warn you off. You will only see hippo ‘yawning’ while in the water because they are only territorial while in the water. Hippo also ‘honk’ and ‘grunt’ to mark their territory;
- A hippo can live for up to 40 – 50 years in the wild;
- Hippos usually come out of the water for four to five hours at night to graze and can cover up to 10km in search of food;
- The Hippos diet consists of grass;
- The hippo is considered one of the most dangerous animals in Africa and it is highly aggressive, particularly if you get between it and the water. Their sharp canine teeth are used for fighting;
- The hippo’s closest living relatives are whales and porpoises;
- The hippopotamus is the third largest land mammal after the elephant and white rhino;
- Their powerful jaws can open to 150 degrees revealing their enormous incisor teeth;
- Hippos have four-webbed toes that splay out to distribute weight evenly and support them on land, their short legs provide powerful propulsion through the water.
Hippopotamus are usually found in mixed groups normally ranging from 20 to 100 individuals. The herd is dominated by a territorial bull, however in periods of drought larger groups are common as they are forced to gather at remaining pools of water. This overcrowding disrupts the hierarchical system and results in frequent aggression between the bulls.
Hippos predators include humans, lions, crocodiles and hyenas. Humans are by far their greatest predator. Hippo populations are threatened by hunting with hundreds of hippos killed every year to minimize human-wildlife conflict. The popularity of their meat, fat and ivory tusks are all valuable to humans.
Hippos have been excluded from many of the strengthened ivory bans now spreading across the world making this vulnerable species at an increased risk from ivory poachers.
While on safari the sight and sound of the Hippos is certainly one those fond memories of the African bush.