Hippos of Zambia


Every sighting of a hippo is an absolute thrill. They have that huge 1.5 ton body on short, stubby legs, topped by a bulbous face with little eyes and tiny ears. Zambia, located in the central lower third of Africa, is home to the world’s largest population of wild hippos.


Found only in Africa, hippopotamus live in rivers, lakes, and swamps throughout the sub-Saharan countries. There are three major rivers in Zambia, and many sources of fresh water.

Zambia hippos at river, Luangwa Valley

Hippos and Fishermen, Luangwa River, Zambia

Hippopotamus, Botswana

Hippo hanging out with two bird species: the heron, and the oxpeckers on his back. Zambia, Luangwa Valley

Hippo, Luangwa Valley, Zambia

Poached for their meat and ivory teeth, hippo populations are steadily declining, and their conservation status is now listed as Vulnerable. See maps below.


Unlike many African mammals with fur hides, hippos have no fur and very little hair. They therefore spend much time under water or in mud, to protect their skin from drying out under the harsh African sun. They also secrete acidic compounds that act as a sunscreen, but they are not enough to prevent their skin from cracking.

Hippo luxuriating in mud

Hippopotamus amphibious. The name itself indicates amphibious qualities of living on land and in water. The Greek translation: river horse.

Hippo Pool at night, Zambia


With nostrils, eyes, and ears situated high on the skull, they can continue breathing while staying under water. They can also close their nostrils under water and remain submerged for many minutes. I like to listen when they come up from under water; they take a breath of air, just like us humans, and whales.


Their closest living relative, in fact, is the whale, cetaceans. 


Hippos can walk on the river bottom; and they sleep, mate, and give birth in the water, too.

Hippo family


Wikipedia Hippopotamus


Being the third largest land mammal on earth (after the elephant and rhinoceros), they look like they’re not very fast animals. But they can run swiftly for short distances, clocked at 19 mph (30 km/h)…and are aggressive animals.

Scraped from fights, and sporting an oxpecker (bird) on its back

A typical day for a hippopotamus is to remain in the water during the hottest hours, then come out when it is cooler, to feed. During the day you’ll find them in and around water, grunting a lot, wallowing, and sleeping. Every once in awhile one will do a 360 degree barrel roll, to moisten any exposed skin.

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania, hippos and cattle egrets


Then at day’s end when temperatures have cooled, they come onto land to graze.



Hip-hippo-hooray for yet another incredible creature on earth.

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Conservation organization for hippos: African Wildlife Foundation


Hippo distribution.gif

Range map African hippopotamus. Red=Historic range, Green=2008 populations. Courtesy Wikipedia

Image result for map of africa

Zambia, Luangwa Valley


105 thoughts on “Hippos of Zambia

    • Yes, they do have prehistoric features and there are many theories about their rich evolutionary lineage, some say dating back roughly eight million years ago. Thank you, Ria, always a pleasure.

    • Yes, that’s a fun fact about the whales. I read that naturalists classified them with pigs until about a century ago, until fossil records and DNA dictated differently. Glad you enjoyed the hippos today, Cindy, thanks very much for stopping by.

  1. They seem docile most of the time, but I’ve read that they can be quite aggressive. I wouldn’t want to be in that tiny boat among all those hippos. They have quite a large mouth, powerful jaws and big teeth. Great pics! I’m really sorry to see that the populations of so many species are in decline and little enough is being done to change that.

    • Yes, it is sad to see. I’m not sure from that Wiki source what they define as “historical” on the range map. I do know that they said hippopotamus were widespread until about 30,000 years ago, so they may mean the decline goes back tens of thousands of years. But it is certain that the population is in decline now, and many organizations or working hard to protect the hippos. Thank you Eilene.

  2. Wow, the third largest land mammal on earth. Beautifully capture! Thank you for sharing the fascinating story and information, Jet.
    Sad to read about the declining…

  3. I knew some of those things about them, but really enjoyed the post. I especially like the photo near the end with the egrets. It made me smile. Hippos have to be some of the more unusual looking animals as far as I’m concerned, as well as one of the species I’d most like to not irritate. 🙂


    • I just love how unusual-looking the hippos are, and you’re right, Janet, definitely an animal we work hard not to irritate. Always a pleasure to have you stop by, thank you.

  4. And hip-hippo-hooray for this splendid post! It’s hard not to smile when you see a photograph of a hippo, so you and Athena must have been beaming when you were out there. Love the head and shoulders picture of the Botswana hippo – wonderful expression!
    Thanks, Jet, this was a delight!

    • We were beaming on that visit to the Luangwa Valley, pc. That trip we went with just one other couple and had to do more work to book and arrange than you could imagine. But it was really fun because we had some unusual sightings, like all of these hippos. We’d never seen so many hippos in one place before, every day it was a bonanza. Glad to share it with you, as always, pc. Have a fun weekend, my friend–

  5. Oh bless the hippopotamus, always so gorgeous. Plus I’m beginning to think think they just might be my spirit animal as I totally relate to their discomfort to heat!

  6. Oh wow, this is a totally different world! How amazing you were able to go to Africa to capture these huge mammals. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what that was like. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. Bless you, Jet!! 💖

    • Thanks so much, Amy. It was very special to see so many hippos. And to ride around in the safari vehicle and find them in the sand and mud and rivers, it was heavenly. I am delighted to share it with you.

  7. Yes, they do look like large pigs so I can understand how that connection was made. Interesting that they are related to whales. I find them really beautiful and I wouldn’t know how to articulate exactly why that is. I like their aggressiveness, they’ve got a “don’t #$%! with me attitude” that greatly appeals. Thank you for this post Jet. (wonderful images too)

    • No, you’re spot-on with that, Jan; hippos have a very clear way of communicating and dictating to us humans. Actually, most animals in the savannah know how to keep their distance from the hippos. Many thanks.

    • I am glad you found that fact about the hippo-whale connection as interesting as I did, Alastair. Thank you for your visit today, and always. Hope you are enjoying the weekend–

  8. Pingback: HIPPOS! | huggers.ca

  9. Hip-hippo-hooray indeed to all these gobsmacking photos. It was one of the big thrills for us to see hippos on our trip to Africa. I was astounded by the noise they make. I’ll say that kind of bellowing enough to scare off the most inquisitive of onlookers. Until that trip had no idea about their speed. Did you see any of them in a sprint?

    • It is a big thrill to see them, and I am delighted you have had this opportunity, Sue. And yes, that grunting and bellowing is intimidating. We didn’t really see any of the hippos sprint, but we saw one of them moving along at a fast trot. Here there was enough space and protection that the hippos were at ease. And of course we never ever got out of the safari vehicle no matter how relaxed they appeared. Thank you, Sue.

    • They are indeed intimidating, especially when they’re grunting. Most of us living beings, man or animal, we all give the hippos as much space as they want. That works out best for all of us. lol. Thank you, Eliza, for your visit today.

    • I am delighted you enjoyed the hippos today, Lenore. Funny to see the cattle egrets using the hippos for stepping stones, isn’t it? I will indeed thank Athena. Thank you for your interest and comment, much appreciated.

    • Yes, the hippos look gentle, but they are not. Native Africans fish in the same rivers with them, and there are problems that arise, as you can imagine. My warm thanks for your visit, Keng, it is a pleasure to “see” you, and I’m glad your big trip was a joy and success.

  10. This is a wonderful post. The photos are splendid; the fourth one down made me laugh aloud. For some reason, the phrase “bathing beauty” came to mind. And there’s always something to learn here. I didn’t know, for example, that hippos are related to whales.

    When I lived in Liberia, I heard a good bit about the native pygmy hippos, but only had the chance to see them in the wild one time. They’re much smaller, and will cruise around on land as well as being adapted to water, like the big ones. They are endangered, primarily because they’re often taken for food, but there have been renewed efforts after the civil war to educate the population about their importance. They do breed well in captivity, which is a plus, and it may be possible to slow the decline in their numbers, too.

    • How wonderful to hear your experience and info about the pygmy hippo, Linda. How very fortunate for you to have experienced the local Liberian talk about them, and to see one in the wild. They are endangered and rare, so I can imagine what a thrill this was for you. I’m happy you enjoyed the hippo post. I enjoyed putting it together. I was so immersed in the hippo photos one morning this week that when I looked out my own California window to the water at the ducks near the shore, I thought for a brief second that they were hippos. That fourth photo you liked is one of my favorites, too. I call it “cranky hippo.” Thanks very much.

  11. After watching Disney’s Fantasia a million times when my sons were young, I will forever look at a hippo and think of the dancing hippo ballerinas 🙂

    I still can’t quite get over the Greek translation of river horses!

    • I enjoyed your “take” on the hippos of your past, Joanne, and can imagine how the million viewings of Fantasia seared them into your head. What a creative concept to have ballerina hippos! Many thanks–

  12. These big guys are extremely dangerous, somewhere I read that they kill more humans than any other wild animal in Africa. They are powerful in or out of water. They can swim fast too. Once I saw a video of a hippo chasing a motor boat and they had a hard time to evade the animal, they had to gun the outboard motor and the occupants were terrified!. Great post my dear as always. 🙂

    • I can imagine the occupants of that motor boat were terrified, they were close to losing their life, and lucky the motor didn’t conk. whew! I have been in a motorboat in hippo waters in Kenya once, and those are animals to stay far away from, which we did. Many thanks, my friend, glad to have you along on the hippo train.

  13. Such fantastic adventures you’ve had. It’s hard for me to imagine being so close to these amazing creatures. Having seen some videos of them sprinting and/or attacking, I’m not sure I’d want to venture very close. Or maybe I just watch too much youTube? Thanks so much for sharing your adventures. How nice to be transported to these exotic locales in the comfort of my warm room.:D

    • Each time I write a post, I, too, am transported back to the adventure, so I am really glad you and I can both enjoy the hippo adventure, Gunta. I am thinking about all the times I have been near to a wild hippo, and if I had to pick one word for what was going through me at the time, it would: awe. Many thanks, dear Gunta–

  14. Hip, hippo, hooray for you and Athena! My world is so much broader and richer through your posts. Mahalo and aloha! ~○~ (hula emoji)

  15. Along with your enthusiasm and information, each of Athena’s photos told a wonderful story about these amazing animals. I loved the family shot and, of course, the wonderful photos where the birds decided to hang out with the hippos. I can imagine your thrill and cheers of hip-hippo-hooray as you traveled through Africa watching the beauty of nature. I’ve only ever seen a hippo at the zoo and the next time I will watch them in a completely different light. As always, thanks for sharing your amazing travels and are there any updates on the latest book?

    • I am so glad you enjoyed the hippo post, ACI. Those baby hippos are pretty cute in the family photo, that’s really fun to see. They are such a cool animal, it’s a delight to share them with you, ACI, and I love knowing that your visit to the zoo hippos will have a new light after this post. Re my latest book. Your inquiry alone was a lift to my heart, thank you. I’m still living in a lot of turmoil as we struggle with our insurance company and repairs, and have continued displacement in the aftermath of the Oct. 9 fire storm. My only writing right now is the blog, but I look forward to the future when my days are my own again. Thanks for asking, I appreciate it.

      • Thanks so much, my friend. There is still much chaos and destruction in our county. Our property, like most, has not yet had a single repair. Toxic debris clean-up began this week; repairs, which will be extensive, will begin after that. It’s slow and arduous; and every day is a battle with the insurance company. I have not given an update because nothing has happened, I was waiting for something good to report. But I thank you for your kindness and concern, and when the electrician comes to re-build our electrical system, I’ll have something to share. My warmest thanks….

      • I had no idea that there would not have been a single repair yet. After all the severe events last year, I’ve seen reports on the recovery of tourist locations, but very few about the what the local people are dealing with. Thank you so much for the update and I will continue to hope that you have news to report soon.

  16. Great post…so informative…I have always had an affection for hippos…not sure why, but they have always peaked my curiousity…so thanks for such a great post! (didn’t realize they were endangered…glad you shared that!)

    • Hippos are fascinating to be around, and you and I both have that affection for them, Kirt. They are listed as vulnerable, which is one step away from endangered. Glad you enjoyed these wonderful beasts, my friend.

  17. Serious looking folk, aren’t they, Jet? 🙂 🙂 I just came from Kelly’s blog where she’d been having a wonderful time in Kenya. I’m leading a sheltered life here in the Algarve.

    • Hi Jo, Great to “see” you today. Thanks for visiting here, glad you enjoyed the hippos. And I would never ever say you lead a sheltered life, you crazy and intrepid adventurer.

  18. Wonderful photos and lots of interesting information that was new to me …like whales being their closest living relative. Fascinating. Majes me honesick for South Africa. Hippos at the game park were as common or often seen as deer. So tragic how wildlife is being threatened globally.


    • Oh they really are lovely creatures. The first hippo I ever experienced in the wild was at night, when they were sloshing in a river way past midnight, just outside the tent. You have a way of getting around this globe, RH, so I can imagine you will see many in the wild one day. Until then, glad to have supplied you with photos.

    • I always lean toward the rosy side of life, as you know by now, David. Life is so short, it might as well be as rosy as possible. I’m delighted, and honored, to bring you the hippos.

    • Thank you kutukamus. I like that hippo-bird pic a lot too. The oxpeckers are on the back of the hippo, and blend in, difficult to see. One is behind the ears and back slightly; the other is closer to the center of the hippo’s back. Oxpeckers eat the parasites that live on the hippo’s skin. Thank you for stopping by and commenting, I appreciate it.

  19. Wonderful post! Reading this brought me right back to Luangwa Valley in Zambia…and the first time I ever saw hippos in the wild close to 30 years ago. All the pictures brought back beautiful memories. Thank you jet and Athena.

    • That you first saw hippos in the wild here in Zambia, speaks of the magic that is the Luangwa Valley. I am delighted you have had the joy of being here, and happy to have brought back beautiful memories for you, Helen. Thanks so much for putting a smile on my face with this comment.

  20. Yes, hip hip hippo hooray for this fantastic beast! A wonderful post, Jet, thank you! Is there no end to man’s killing of animals? With our world so over crowded, man needs to seriously rethink his treatment of animals.

  21. Pingback: Hippos of Zambia — Jet Eliot | huggers.ca

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