The Humble Hippo

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The raucous nasal intonations of the hippo are one of Africa's signature tunes, often heard and commonly seen wherever they are present in and around water. However, despite their large numbers and non-threatened status, this mammal remains one of the most interesting creatures out there.

The things you may or may not know about hippos:

  • The hippopotamus' name comes from the Greek meaning 'river horse', and this animal is a member of the group Cetartiodactyla, along with whales and dolphins.
  • After the white rhino and the elephant, the hippo is the third largest land mammal.
  • Despite being aquatic, hippos do not rely on water sources for sustenance, feeding only on grass – about 60kgs a day, which they consume on the river banks at night.
  • While grazing at night, they often bump into human pedestrians, which never ends well for the smaller participant, making hippos one of the most dangerous animals in Africa.
  • Basking in rivers and dams during the day helps to regulate the hippos temperature and they prefer to remain submerged when temperatures rise, popping up to breathe every 5 minutes or so.
  • This bobbing action is automatic and even a sleeping hippo will float to the top to breathe at regular intervals.
  • When hippos do emerge during the heat of day, they secrete an oily red substance, which acts as a moisturising sunblock, leading to the belief that hippos sweat blood. In fact, hippos do not sweat at all, having no sebaceous glands.
  • One of the most widely photographed activities of hippos is their 'yawning' with mouths agape, which is actually a show of dominance and has nothing to do with boredom or fatigue.
  • Hippo teeth are similar to elephant ivory in composition and it is believed that George Washington had a set of false teeth carved from hippo ivory.
  • Hippo cows keep their offspring separate from the rest of the pod for up to 44 days to avoid it being killed by aggressive males.
  • The calves are born underwater, learning to swim to the surface instantly and also suckle underwater.
  • Hippo milk is pink in colour as it contains hipposudoric acid, the same substance that gives their secretions its reddish hue.

Ask your game ranger if they know any more interesting facts about these animals the next time you are enjoying a sundowner, overlooking one of the many watering holes at Thornybush Private Nature Reserve.

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Sunday, 19 November 2017