10 things you did not know about Hippo

It seems unfair that the Hippo did not make it onto the Big 5 list. Surely, since they are the 3rd largest land mammal after the elephant and the white rhino, and they are considered to be the most dangerous, they deserve some sort of recognition? That being said there are many stories and legends about the huge ‘River Horse’.

Hippo in water

David Batzofin (cc)

Here are some of the facts that you might not know about this fearsome creature:

  1. Given the right conditions, a hippo can live up to 40 years.
  2. When hippos bask in the sun, they secrete a red, oily substance. This has given rise to the myth that they ‘sweat blood’. The liquid is a natural sunblock and moisturizer.
  3. Although it seems that hippos can submerge for inordinately long periods of time, they need to surface every 3-5 minutes to breathe. This is a natural reflex and can be done even when the animal is sleeping.
  4. Despite their bulk, hippos can attain speeds of up to 30 km per hour over short distances.
  5. They spend most of their time in the water although they leave the water in the cooler parts of the day and night in order to forage for vegetation. They have been known to walk up to 10km in order to find food. Considering their bulk, the fact that they can consume up to 68kg in a night is a relatively small amount.
  6. Hippo’s are not only territorial in water, but it is also when they are out of the water that hippo can be extremely aggressive towards humans. They have been called the most dangerous animal in Africa as they have been known to cause many a death, especially in communities that are near or are surrounded by water.
  7. Much like the Rock Hyrax is the closest living relatives to the elephant, the hippo is closely related to whales and porpoises. Albeit that their evolutionary paths diverged about 55 million years ago.
  8. Both reproduction and birth take place in water, and it is here that the huge bulls become fiercely territorial. Adult males have been known to injure or kill both females and youngsters when competing for space.
  9. Hippos can neither swim nor float! They give that impression while they are in the water, when in fact they are walking along the bottom surface.
  10. Often seen rearing up out of the water, mouth agape, this is not a yawn but a sign of aggression. Accompanied by a loud series of grunts and honks, it is a warning not to be taken lightly.

David Batzofin (cc)

A famous South African hippo:

One of the most famous South African hippos was Huberta (originally called Hubert, she was correctly named after her death). Her fame lasted for three years as she walked several thousands of kilometre from KwaZulu Natal to King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape back in 1928. No one knows what started her walking, but she certainly captured the attention of the media, both local and international during this time.

Hippo up close

David Batzofin (cc)

An African myth about hippos:

How the hippo came to live in the water is one story that is often repeated around an evening campfire. Many millennia ago, most of the African animals lived together on land and only very few could be found in the rivers and lakes. The baking hot sun caused many of them discomfort, but they were lucky and had feathers, fur or scales to protect them from the energy-sapping rays. However, Hippo’s skin had none of that protection and as he grew in size his skin stretched and became extremely sensitive to the harsh rays of the sun. Finally, Hippo could endure it no more. He asked the Creator if he could live in the water to keep cool and protect his sensitive skin. “You may”, said the Creator. “You must ask the permission of those already living in the water as you are large, and they fear that you will eat all their food”. To allay their fears, Hippo explained that he did not eat fish, but only consumed the vegetation that could be found on the riverbanks. As the river inhabitants were still sceptical, Hippo made them the following solemn promise. “I will open my mouth wide every day, in order for you to see that there are no fish bones or scales in my mouth. And I will use my tail to spread my dung, to prove that there no bones” Finally, the river animals were convinced and from that day forth, the hippo has lived in the water, opening his mouth and spreading his dung. The next time you come across a hippo, take a moment and give it the respect that it deserves.

Hippo in water

David Batzofin (cc)

Do you have any specific questions about hippos you would like answered? Is there another specific non-Big 5 animal you would like us to write about? Drop us a comment below and we will respond to you.

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