Hippopotamidae – Hippopotamuses

Big is beautiful! Sinking is more useful than swimming when your closest relatives are dolphins and whales

The Hippopotamidae family consists of two distinct species that captivate those who study and observe them: the common hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) and the much smaller, more elusive pygmy hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis or Hexaprotodon liberiensis). These semi-aquatic mammals, deriving their name from the Greek words “hippos,” meaning horse, and “potamos,” meaning river, thus “river horse,” have adapted remarkably well to life in and around water bodies.

The common hippopotamus is the third-largest living land mammal, after elephants and some rhinoceroses, with adult males weighing 1,500 to 1,800 kg (3,300 to 4,000 lbs) and sometimes even more. Despite their bulky frame and short legs, hippos are surprisingly agile and can reach up to 30 km/h (18.6 mph) on land over short distances. This agility, combined with their territorial nature, makes them one of the most dangerous animals in Africa, responsible for more human fatalities on the continent than any other large animal.

Hippos spend much of their day submerged in rivers and lakes to keep their massive bodies cool under the hot African sun and emerge at dusk to graze on grasses. Contrary to their peaceful appearance when submerged, hippos are highly aggressive, especially if they feel threatened or their path to water is blocked.

Both species are equipped with large mouths and sharp tusks, which serve as defense mechanisms against predators and in fights with other hippos over territory or mating rights. Despite their herbivorous diet, the force of a hippo’s bite is immense, capable of splitting a small boat in half.

Hippos have few natural predators, with lions, crocodiles, and hyenas only posing a significant threat to young or ill individuals. However, human activities pose the greatest threat to their survival. Habitat loss due to agricultural expansion, human settlement, and poaching for their ivory-like teeth, meat, and hide have led to significant declines in hippopotamus populations.