Wildlife Wednesday- 9 Amazing Facts About the Hippo!

By Nkosinomusa Nyoni

Scientific name: Hippopotamus Amphibius

Weight: 1.4 to 5 tonnes

Size: 2 to 5 metres in length

Lifespan: Up to 50 years in the wild

Where to find them: Mana Pools, Hwange, Zambezi, Gonarezhou, Matobo

The name Hippopotamus comes from the ancient Greek word for “River horse”. Hippos may strike you as gentle and docile animals however they are one of the world’s most dangerous beasts. They are considered the second largest land mammals on earth with a large barrel-shaped body, short legs, a short tail and an enormous head. The more you learn about hippos the more intrigued you’ll be, by them and their surroundings. Below is a list of 9 exciting facts about Hippos:

1. Hippos are herbivores and eat mostly grass but they will eat fruit if it’s available. Despite their size they eat just 1–1.5 per cent of their body weight every day and are mostly active at night when they forage for this grub!

2. Their massive jaws have long, sharp teeth that can grow to be 20 inches long! Hippos use their lips to pull up grass and their long teeth to tear it up before swallowing. They have a long intestinal tract that helps slow down the digestion process to allow important nutrients to be absorbed by the body for them to remain healthy.

3. Hippos can neither float nor swim! They walk or stand on surfaces below the water such as sandbanks, but this doesn’t hinder them from spending most of their day in water to protect their sensitive skin from the scotching sun while also staying cool.

© Grimwood Cooke

4. An adult hippo needs to resurface every 3-5 minutes to breathe. This process of resurfacing and breathing is automatic, even while sleeping they will rise and breathe without waking.

5. Hippos bask on the shoreline and secrete an oily red substance, which gave rise to the myth that they sweat ‘blood’, Interesting! The liquid is actually a skin moisturizer and sunblock that may also provide protection against germs.

6. Despite its stocky shape and legs, hippos can easily outrun most humans because they have been clocked at 30km/hr over short distances.

© Grimwood Cooke

7. Hippos are only territorial in the water because that’s where reproduction and birth occur. Hippo calves weigh approximately 45kg at birth and they can suckle on land or underwater by closing their ears and nostrils. Every female hippo has only one calf every two years. Soon after birth the mother and calf join schools as a way to seek protection against crocodiles, lions and hyenas. 

8. When Hippos defecate they swish their tails back and forth, scattering their droppings like a muck-spreader and the resulting slapping noise echoes downstream and this helps it proclaim territory.

9. A lot of people associate a Hippo’s open mouth to a yawn but it’s actually a sign to warn you off. Hippos will only ‘yawn’ while in the water and you will also hear them ‘honking’ and ‘grunting’ to mark their territory.

Safety Advice

Keep your distance when on foot, always avoid thickets where hippos usually frequent and if you are in a canoe, give hippos plenty of space.

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