Learn about this African safari icon

There was a bit of focus on the Hippo last week – with Lise’s visit to Hippo Hollow and then also finding out about the almost human hippo, Jessica.  I thought it might be worthwhile to delve a bit into these huge animals and see what interesting things I could find out about them.

As much as I love the Big 5 – I always enjoy looking for hippo when out on safari.  I find them pretty awesome creatures!  They are fairly common throughout Southern Africa’s National Parks, obviously in those parks where there is water…..so you not going to find hippos in Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans or Namibia’s Etosha!
If you are looking for abundant numbers of hippo then my advice is the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, particularly at the end of the dry season!  I have never seen such dense populations, literally hundreds and hundreds in huge pods.  The reason you get to see such numbers is because the wet season ends around March / April so by the time the rains arrive after the dry season, usually early November – there is very limited water in the normally water logged Luangwa River.  So the hippos are reduced to very specific areas of the river, that still have some water.

This does result in some super aggressive behavior, and we were witness to some spectacular duels in the week we were in the Luangwa Valley.  That said – a hippo will rarely kill another.  They will generally stop fighting when it becomes clear that one is stronger than the other.  However to humans, they are incredibly dangerous and are one of the biggest killers in Africa.

Abundant hippo pods in the South Luangwa River

Here are a few facts I thought I would share about the hippo:

  1. After the elephant the hippo is the second largest land animal, but the third largest by weight behind the white rhinoceros
  2. During the day they remain in or close to water and mud, this helps protect them from sunburn.  At dusk they come onto the land to graze, sometimes traveling as far as 8km (5miles)
  3. They are herbivores.  Their digestive system has not adapted to eat meat
  4. They can outrun a human on land – with speeds up to 30km/h (for short distances)
  5. They can run along the bottom of a river due to their specific gravity
  6. Adult hippos will surface to breathe every 3 – 5 minutes.  This is an “automated” process and will happen even if the hippo is sleeping.  It will raise to breathe without waking itself
This is usually what you are looking for