Animal stories : Hippopotamus
Hippopotamus or hippos are considered by many to be the most dangerous animals in Africa. The third-heaviest creature on land (behind elephants and white rhinos), the hippo is awkward but deceptively fast, and people have learned to be wary around them. Their clumsiness changes to grace when they swim underwater. Called the ‘river horse’ by the ancient Greeks, these large, lumbering beasts are actually related more closely to pigs than to horses.
All hippos eat plants. They graze by grabbing grass with their lips — which are two feet wide.
They swing their heads to one side, tearing off the grass at its roots. Their razor sharp teeth are used primarily to frighten away predators and, when necessary, to fight each other for control of a herd or mudhole. Despite their usually gentle nature, their teeth and speed make them fearsome to other animals.
Every evening at sunset, these hungry giants waddle out of the water. They climb up steep banks and hollow well-worn paths to graze in grassy fields. Then, before sunrise, they follow the same paths back to the river, lake, or mudhole they came from. Hippos eat about 80 to 100 pounds of vegetation each night.
Sometimes hippos are born underwater and must come up for air right away. At first, calves can hold their breath for only about 20 seconds, but as they grow this time will extend to five or six minutes. Young hippos are so comfortable in the water, they learn to swim before they learn to walk. Mother hippos are fiercely protective of their young — the young are easy prey for big cats and other predators. With their powerful jaws, mothers have been known to kill lions and bite crocodiles in half.
Thousands of years ago, hippos roamed through Europe, Asia, and Africa. Today, the 400-600 pound pygmy hippo lives in the rain forests and swamps of West Africa. The gigantic common hippo, weighing 3,000-4,000 pounds, lives mostly in grasslands around rivers and lakes of East and Central Africa.
The hippo is the only large land animal that is not threatened. In preserves, hippos are even increasing in number. Why are common hippos doing so well? For one thing, they are not constantly hunted by humans. And they don’t have to run away when they sense trouble; they just hide underwater. They also live a long time (20-40 years) and are nocturnal, which keeps them out of harm’s way during the day. As long as we continue to provide them space in which to live, the hippo will flourish.
•Hippos are the third-heaviest creature on land — behind elephants and white rhinos.
•Ancient Greeks called them the ‘river horse’.
•These large, lumbering beasts are related more closely to pigs than to horses.
•All hippos eat plants. They eat about 80 to 100 pounds of vegetation each night.
•They graze by grabbing grass with their lips, which are two feet wide.
•Young hippos learn to swim before they learn to walk.
•Mother hippos are fiercely protective of their young: with their powerful jaws, mothers have been known to kill lions and bite crocodiles in half.