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African Hippo

The Common Hippo is the third largest African land mammal in overall size, after the Elephant and the White Rhino

Hippos on the banks of the Zambezi River above the Victoria Falls

Hippo along the Zambezi River bank

Quick Facts about African Hippos

Latin name: Hippopotamus amphibious
Gestation period of hippo: 8 months
Calf size of hippo: 1 calf weighing 50 kgs (110lbs)
Life span of hippo: 35-45 years
How fast hippo hippo can run: 35km/h (22mph)
Weight of male and female hippo: ♂- < 2500kg (5500lbs), ♀- 1800kg (4000lbs)
• Hippopotamus is a Greek word meaning "River Horse" - Hippo (horse) potamus (river)

Hippo near the water's edge, seen on a river cruise on the Zambezi River

Hippo near the water's edge

Hippo Species In Africa

The common or river Hippo (Hippopotamus amphibious) is one of two surviving species of Hippo. The other being the Pygmy Hippo (Choeropsis liberiensis or Hexaprotodon liberiensis) from the forests and swamps of West Africa.

The Pygmy Hippo shares the same body structure of it's much larger cousin but is only half the size and roughly a quarter of the weight, these nocturnal animals are generally much more terrestrial, however, they are semi-aquatic and do rely on water to keep their skin moist and body temperature low.

Can African Hippos Swim?

Hippo are well suited to their semi-aquatic lifestyle, but interesting they cannot 'swim' in the full sense of the word. They rely on their huge reserves of fat to help keep them positively buoyant. They will mostly walk along the bottom of the river or lake, when they need air they will effectively jump and use their buoyancy to float to the surface briefly before carrying on along the bottom.

Hippos spend much of their days in the water, resting in groups known as pods or rafts. Hippos can hold their breath for 5-6 minutes, but hippos cannot breathe underwater. However, they can sleep underwater, lying just under the surface they will automatically come up for air.

These pods prefer to rest in shallower water where they can lie down with their heads out of the water. Often resting their chins on each other's backs. If the pod is disturbed or feels threatened, they will move into the deep water where they can use the water as cover.

Hippos in the Zambezi River upstream from the mighty Victoria Falls

Hippo pod in the water

Why Do Hippopotamus Spend All Day In The Water?

They have evolved to become amphibious for several reasons. The first being thermoregulation - the water helps keep their massive bodies cool, as they do not sweat, saving much-needed energy that would have been used for this purpose.

The second is their skin has become sensitive to the ultraviolet radiation of the sun, meaning they need to keep it moist and protected from the harsh African midday sun.

They will leave the protection of the water at night and graze throughout the night coming back to the water in the early hours of the morning.

Are Hippos Dangerous?

If a hippo is threatened while it is outside the water, it will run to get back to the safety of the water. This is why Hippos are considered to be one the most dangerous animals in Africa, anything blocking their way back to water is often just run over or bitten in half.

The fact that their pathways leading to and from the water are often single-tracks through thick reeds, any unsuspecting human using this path, to fetch drinking water or wash clothing has very little chance of escape.

Hippos are also responsible for overturning boats and canoes in certain circumstances. These hippo attacks on boats are often just because the hippo is trying to get out of the way. However, the occupants of these vessels, in remote areas, are often not able to swim and therefore many deaths are caused by drowning.

However, African Hippo do not eat fish, meat or people, despite the fact that they are responsible for so many deaths.

What Do Hippos Eat?

Hippos are not herbivores or carnivores. Hippos are bulk grazers feeding mostly on grass but also on reeds and other aquatic vegetation. They use their square and hard lips to graze the vegetation as they do not have any incisor teeth.

Because they only feed at night, they have effectively half the time to feed as other land animals. This means that they need to be efficient in digesting and extracting as many nutrients as they can from their food as well as reducing their energy consumption.

Hippos have a unique digestive system, which is between the ruminants, with their four-chamber stomachs and the hind-gut fermenters such as elephants and zebra. Hippos instead have a three-chambered stomach involving a fore-gut digestive system. This system is slow with a long retention time. However, they have the whole day to process the food from the previous night.

What Is The Hippopotamus Herd Structure?

Dominant bulls will look after their pods of up to twenty or so females and youngsters. Other bulls are allowed to stay within the pod as long as they are submissive to the dominant bull. If a bull challenges for the dominant position, fights can often be long and brutal.

Hippos massive incisor teeth and canines, up to 30cm long, can inflict serious damage to their opponent's thick skin and these fights can be fatal to the loser. Here's a clip of hippo bulls fighting in a turf war.

African Hippo along the Zambezi River bank

Hippos are mammals, with their young being born on the land, in the thick cover of reed beds. Within a few hours, they are led back to the safety of the pod. They can swim almost immediately and can even suckle milk from their mothers underwater. Often the youngsters can be seen resting on top of their mothers backs and will very rarely stray far from her protection for the first few years of their lives.

What Are Hippopotamus's Predators?

Crocodiles pose a threat to baby hippo, but within the safety of the pod the baby cannot be touched. Other dangers are from lion and hyena when the hippo are grazing at night. Once these hippos reach adulthood there is little that can harm them. However, in some parts of Africa, prides of lion have been known to take on these giants.

Do Hippopotamus Occur In Victoria Falls?

Victoria Falls is situated on the mighty Zambezi River, which is home to a great number of river hippopotamus. It would be almost impossible to go on a river cruise without seeing several herds of these interesting animals.

African hippos have a very distinctive call or snort, which is synonymous with Africa and leaves a lasting impression on the listener.

Please click on the link for further research on African Hippo.

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