Hippo, Zambia

Hippo, Zambia

Although they can be swift on land, the gargantuan body of Hippopotamus amphibius is designed for water.  The short legs don’t get in the way when they are wallowing in the mud and shallow water.  They can also sink their barrel-shaped bodies and walk along the river floor.


Hippos mate and give birth in the water.  Even their ears, eyes and nostrils are high on their head for easy submersion.  They sleep in the water and come up for air without ever waking.  For this semi-aquatic mammal with thin, hairless skin, the water prevents overheating and dehydration under the hot African sun.


There are some species of hippo that have become extinct, but there are still populations of hippos in sub-Saharan Africa, especially in Tanzania and Zambia.  Their conservation status is delicate, listed as Vulnerable Threatened.



Eating the fruit of a sausage tree

In the early 20th century hippos were considered close in ancestry to the pig.  They roll around in mud and grunt like a pig, and there is a physical resemblance as well.  But further studies of their DNA and fossil records classified them in the whale family.  I have spent many glorious hours observing hippos on land and in water, and the water is where they luxuriate.


You wouldn’t think hippopotamus are fast when you see their short, stubby legs carrying over 3,000 pounds of body mass; yet they can outrun humans at 19 mph.  Hippos are not only fast, but they are aggressive, unpredictable, and extremely dangerous.   I have watched more than one wildlife guide shudder as they relay the story of a distant cousin, friend, or relative who was killed by a hippoThe hippo is responsible for more human deaths than any other mammal in Africa. 


In their territory, pods of hippos are commonly seen during the day where they rest together at a mud hole, lake or in rivers.  Watching one roll over like a beached whale to moisten its back is one of the most beautiful slow dances I have ever seen.  The first time I observed this action I thought there was a fight brewing, so much splashing and abrupt activity.  But it was never a fight, it was simply one colossal hippo turning over resulting in muddy water ripples and sloshes.

Hippo Pool at night, Zambia

Hippo Pool at night, Zambia


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander


41 thoughts on “Hip-Hippo-Hooray

  1. These are powerful mammals and they don’t look that aggressive at first sight but their record of kills is undeniable of their lethal aggressive behavior. Thanks for the post Jet! 🙂

    • Apparently they gallop when in pursuit, which does seem improbable. I’ve seen a few trot and that’s curious too. But I, like you dear Bill, will refrain from testing them. Ha. Always a treat to hear from you. 😀

    • Hi Sue! That night photo was a cool experience because it was pitch black out, but we heard lots of sloshing. Then the guide turned on his flashlight and three big hippos appeared. Very glad you enjoyed it…thanks so much. 😃

  2. A very informative post, as usual. Thank you so much! Unfortunately more and more species become extinct….I hope this won’t be the case of the hippo as well. They are just too adorable. Have a great weekend ❤

  3. Never too late for further education Jet Dear!Such an informative and rich post on this titanic creature!
    Stunned by amazing details,which I never have imagined!Seeing them only in the zoos,I never bothered to learn more about the way they live and their very special characteristics.If I start mentioning what I’ve learnt from your post,I might re-write it …,but amazed by the fact that they can run and also that they are dangerous.Why people approach them?Do they extinct them for a special purpose having to do with trade? Loved Athena’s photos;the 1st profile portrait,the en face eating the fruit of a sausage tree and of course the night pod where they look so relaxed!Hope you have videoed the slow dance … I would love to watch it!Thank you for this exceptional post you shared with us!
    Have the most enjoyable weekend ever!More warm,spring hugs to you and Athena 🙂 ღ ღ
    PS:I had to look (sausage tree) up in the dictionary … Interesting !!!

    • Hi dear Doda, thank you so much for your attentive and warm comment. People who approach them are usually locals who are fishing in the same waters to feed their families, and tourists who do not know the hippo’s ferocious ways. As for their troubling decline, the hippo has ivory canine teeth. I’m glad you looked up sausage trees–they are really interesting trees and although the short-legged hippo cannot reach the fruit, they seize the opportunity when the fruit eventually falls to the ground. My best wishes to you as always ❤️😃

      • I’m glad I can comment on your posts,as in some other posts my comments are spammed again and they are not posted.Anyway,thanks kindly,Jet Dear,for all your extended answers,which I do treasure and appreciate 🙂 xxx

  4. This is fascinating Jet. I knew hippos were fast and aggressive on land, but it’s amazing to think they’re related to whales and that fact about them coming up for air without waking is a wonderful image.

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