World Hippo Day – 15th February
Today 15th February is a day when the world celebrates the Hippopotamus, one of the oddest animals in Africa. Although they are known to be one of Africas most dangerous animals, there is far more to this animal than just being feared. They have been celebrated in Africa for centuries. The Zulu warriors revered them for their bravery and they have often been featured in African folktales not to mention the image of the ancient Egyptian goddess Taweret.
Hippopotamus which means river horse, are closely related to whales, dolphins and porpoises. There are only two known species of hippos; the large/ common hippo and the pygmy hippo. The common hippo has five subspecies spread across the African continent. One of which is the Cape hippo found in South Africa as well as on Kapama Private Game Reserve.
In recent times the hippo numbers have been on the decline. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed hippos as a vulnerable species in 2006 after establishing that the hippo population had declined by as much as 20% within the previous twenty years. Droughts have led to habitat loss, and the hunting and poaching of hippos, both for their meat and ivory teeth, is also a threat.
The Hippo is the third largest land mammal that can weigh up to 2000 k.g. They spend most of their time underwater because their skin is sensitive to the harsh African sun and will quickly burn and dehydrate their skin. With the lack of hair on the body and no sweat glands, they don’t have any tools to fight against the sun UV and overheating. But they have one unique method to help with cooling down. They can secrete a special mucus from their skin that has a reddish appearance. This slimy mucus acts like sunblock, reflecting the UV of the sun and helping to cool the body down when they are not submerged in water.
They can hold their breath for up to 6min and walk on the bottom of the river bed, as with their short legs, they are not designed for swimming. Hippos are also “herd” animals, one dominant male with the rest females and his youngsters and babies.
A group of hippos can consist of up to 15 individuals. The group can be called, a pod, raft, bloat or even a thunder of hippos. When night falls, the hippo escapes the water to feed. They are mainly vegetarians and eat short, sweet grasses consuming up to 40kg a night. Even though they are grass eaters they have been known to eat and scavenge on meat and carcasses. This behaviour is observed in winter and droughts when they will supplement their diet with meat, because of the lack of grass and other food.
A Hippo is pregnant for eight months, similar to whales and a new-born hippo can weigh about 50kg. The baby will suckle for just over a month and most of the suckling will happen under the water. Hippos can live up to the age of 50 years of age.
The Hippopotamus is one of the oddest and weirdest animals of Africa, but very entertaining while on safari. Guest can watch as they bob their heads in and out of the water as they gasp for air. They show off their massive teeth, announcing that this is their waterhole and theirs alone. The thunderous sound that emanates as they call out as the sun starts to drop, telling all the creatures it’s time for the hippo and they are on their way.
Hippos are not the prettiest but one of the most fun and entertaining, so let’s celebrate the hippo and share awareness about these interesting animals to preserve and conserve them for years to come.
Story by: Kapama Buffalo Camp Ranger – Ben Scheepers