Hippopotamuses are considered one of the most intimidating creatures on the planet. Their aggressive nature and ability to easily outrun a human have earned hippos the reputation of being a dangerous animal. But exciting animals like the hippo are what makes African safari vacations so exhilarating. Seeing one of these large creatures in the wild is a wonderful experience.
Hippopotamuses may be one of the most potentially dangerous animals on the planet, but their numbers and habitats are threatened by an even more dangerous life form: humans. The opportunity to see a hippo while on an African safari may not be available much longer if people are not aware of the amazing animal that is being lost. Here is everything you need to know about hippos.
- The Name
Hippopotamus means “river horse.” This term comes from the Ancient Greek language, surprising for an animal that is so iconic to Africa.
- They Make Their Own Sunblock
People once believed that hippos sweat blood. This was due to the natural moisturizer that they secrete while sunbathing along the shores of rivers and watering holes. The red, oily substance helps to protect the hippo from the sun and germs that may infect the animal.
- Surfacing is Often
Good news for those on safari vacations in South Africa: The hippo normally does not hide beneath the water surface for long! Though they spend most of their lives in the water, the hippo cannot hold their breath as long as some aquatic mammals. They must surface every 3-5 minutes to breathe. Even when the hippo is sleeping, this surfacing is automatic.
- Territorial Creatures
Hippos love their aquatic homes. They become territorial and aggressive towards threats while in the water. This is because everything important in the life of a hippo, reproduction and having their babies, occur in the rivers and water holes in which they live.
- Faster than Any Man
A hippo may look like a fat, slow animal, but they can easily outrun even the fastest of men. Some have been timed at 19 miles an hour, and for very short distances they can reach up to 30 miles an hour.
- Small Appetites
Though the hippopotamus is a huge animal, it does not consume much food, relatively speaking. These 4-ton animals feed on grass and normally graze for four to five hours a day, consuming about 80 pounds of food. Hippos will travel up to 6 miles on the African terrain to find a good grazing area.
- Related to Whales
Whales and hippos are distantly related; the split occurred 55 million years ago. Whales, porpoises and other cetaceans are the closest living relatives of hippos today.
- Threatened Numbers
The populations of hippos living in the wild are experiencing a drastic decrease in numbers. Their existence is vulnerable and it is more important than ever to educate the public on ways to protect this magnificent creature.
- Terms to Know
A male hippo is known as a “bull”, female a “cow” and a baby is called a “calf.” Hippos living together are often referred to as a “herd” or “pod.”
The best way to see hippopotamuses in the wild is to go on a safari vacation in South Africa. For more information, view our African Safari Tours page.
Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa