Hippos (Hippopotamus): Facts to Know About the River Horse

John Cassim

Harare, Zimbabwe – Did you know that hippos can run so fast that at times they are airborne, according to research by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), as reported by the media in the United Kingdom (UK)?

Hippos, unlike other land animals such as elephants, horses, and rhinos, exclusively trot when moving, making them airborne for periods of up to 3 seconds at any given time.

The name hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) derives from the Greek term for “river horse.”

Hippos enjoy freshwater habitats like no other land mammal because of their semi-aquatic nature. They are also very good swimmers, but they can’t breathe under water.

Their eyes, nose, and ears are located on the top of their heads, which means they can see and breathe while submerged in the water. They also sweat an oily red liquid, which helps protect their skin from drying out and acts as a sunblock.

Researchers say hippos can close their nostrils, and they can hold their breath for five minutes or longer when submerged. Hippos can even sleep underwater, using a reflex that allows them to bob up, take a breath, and sink back down without waking up.

They don’t need to wake up in order to breathe.

The average male hippo can weigh around 3,200 kilogrammes, while females usually weigh 30% less. They’re typically 3.5 metres long and 1.5 metres tall.

Hippos have bulky, barrel-shaped bodies, short and stout legs, large heads, and enormously powerful jaws.

Their jaws can open to 180 degrees and bite down with three times the strength of a lion. They’re armed with impressive, sharp teeth that can grow up to 50 cm long and are used for eating and defence.

They can bite and cut a human into two halves with just one bite.

Compared to other animals like whales in the same family, hippos are not as intelligent but are not stupid either. They also don’t have the intelligence of elephants, which are the largest land animals on the planet.

Hippos are herbivores and are most active at night, when they forage for food. They eat mostly grass and can graze up to 35 kg of grass.

River horses usually live in groups called herds of around ten to 20 individuals, led by one large dominant male. The other members are females, their young, and a few young non-breeding males.

The dominant males are very protective over their group, and to warn off rival males, they open their huge mouths and display their long, curved canines.

This behaviour is mostly used for hippos to display their teeth and jaws, which is a sign of aggression that is meant to scare off predators or other hippos competing for their territory.

They also make loud grunts and aggressive splashes in the water.

Female hippos, called cows, give birth every two years, usually to a single calf. Soon after birth, the mother and her baby join up with other cows and calves for protection against predators, such as crocodiles, lions, and hyenas.

If the male wants to mate, it will spin its tail while it shoots out urine and faeces far and wide. If a nearby female is attracted by this show of affection, she will answer by showering the male in her own faeces.

Males select females when they are in heat and push them away from the herd to mate. This mating ritual can last 30 minutes. Peak breeding occurs between May and July. Hippos are polygamous, meaning they mate with multiple mates throughout life, and males may mate with multiple females in a single season.

In the wild, hippos live for around 40 years. In captivity, they tend to live longer and may reach up to 50 years old.

Hippos are primarily found in countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Uganda. However, their population has gone down due to habitat loss and hunting.

The hippopotamus was the largest animal indigenous to Egypt, but sadly, it has been completely extinct there since the early 19th century.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top