These closest relatives of whales have eyes, nostrils, and ears on the top of their enormous heads (to watch enemies), stubby pillar-like legs, a barrel-shaped hairless body, and a little tail.
They are semi-aquatic mammals and use the water only as a retreat. They spend the daytime in water and emerge at night to feed. Hippos are herbivores and forage on the grass at varying distances from a water source. As a result of the growing pressure on freshwater resources across Africa, their reliance on freshwater habitats creates conflict with humans and adds to their vulnerability.
Once found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, today is largely confined to protected areas in East African countries.
March 2023: The African Wildlife Foundation announced plans to support conservation efforts for hippos in Uganda, including anti-poaching measures, habitat restoration, and community-based conservation programs.
Jan 2023: A new study published in the journal Animal Conservation found that hippo populations in Kenya’s Mara River face significant threats from habitat loss, pollution, and human-wildlife conflict.
2022: Human activities have had a significant negative impact on the habitats of hippopotamuses in Bui National Park, Ghana. The construction of a dam has caused an increase in water levels, flooding the areas where the animals used to reside and leading to a decrease in forest cover, as well as the destruction of riparian grasses. This has caused a decline in the hippopotamus population of 70%, from 209 individuals in 2003 to 64 individuals in 2021.
Dec 2022: Born Free, an international wildlife and conservation charity, has cautioned that the population of hippos in Africa is still dropping due to laws that are tightening the illegal ivory trade.
Did you know?
- The unlikely cousin of a whale is the only mammal with an amphibious call.
- Hippos can neither swim nor breathe underwater! Instead, they walk on the bottom of the riverbed.
- Their name, hippopotamus, is derived from an ancient Greek word meaning “horse of the river,” but hippos are not at all related to horses.
- Grass is their favorite food; in just one night, they can gobble up to 35kg (77lb) of grass( typically do not eat aquatic vegetation). The main reason for nocturnal feeding adaptation may be thermoregulation.
- They are one of the largest land animals on Earth and can weigh up to 3,200kg (7,000 lb). That’s as much as two compact SUVs!
- Their skin may crack if exposed to the air or sun for long periods and must remain moist, so they require some form of a permanent water source.
- Complex bellows and grunts are used for signaling and can be transmitted simultaneously through air and water.
- Their sweat glands secrete a red oily substance which acts as natural sun/UV-block as well as antibiotic, plus it won’t wash out in the water!
- African at-risk wildlife, like elephants and rhinos, have organizations focused on their conservation, creating good chances for species survival. There is no organization working on the conservation of hippos.
- In the 19th century hippo teeth were used as piano keys and artificial teeth.
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Terrestrial / Aquatic
Altricial / Precocial
Polygamous / Monogamous
Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic
Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal
Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd
Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore
Migratory: Yes / No
Domesticated: Yes / No
Dangerous: Yes / No