Episode 192 – Hippopotamus: Big, Round, and Deadly

“…and today we’re talking about Moto Moto and why he doesn’t like you. But more on that later.”

A beast lies in a river bed. He is confident when the waters run against his mouth. And he has no fear of turbulent waters. You can’t take him by his eyes or pull his nose with a snare. This behemoth is no chaos monster, but he does sow chaos in the riverways of Africa. The hippopotamus seems like a rotund herbivore that only threatens the grass, but he’s really a mighty mammal to be feared and respected. But big and imposing is one way to rise above the food chain in Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Description

  • It’s a giant cow-pig-horse-manatee with an oblong, barrel-shaped body, short stubby legs, and tiny tail.
  • It has a massive rhino-esque head with a long, wide snout, little round ears, and is covered in grey-purple skin with almost no fur.
  • It also has webbed feet to help it putz along riverbeds
  • Its eyes, ears, and nostrils are on the top of its head so that it can see, hear, and breathe while keeping most of its body submerged like a crocodile.
  • It has possibly the largest mouth in the animal kingdom relative to its size. 
  • That mouth is filled with molars to chew grass, but it also has a bunch of huge canines and incisors near the front of its jaw to be able to fight off potential predators and other males.
    • The canines can get as long as 1’ 8”
  • The teeth sharpen as they grind together in the hippo’s mouth
  • The hippo has one of the strongest bites in the animal kingdom at 1800 PSI
    • Lion 650
    • Hyena 1100
    • Crocodile 3700

Measure Up

  1. Hippopotamus
  2. Moose
  3. Camel
  4. Seal

Length

  • 2.90 to 5.05 m (9.5 to 16.6 ft)
  • How many hippos go into the height of Mount Tahat, the tallest mountain in Algeria. 
  • Hint: The old city Hippo Regius was located in modern day Algeria. It was where St. Augustine of Hippo was bishop until he died during a Vandal siege on the city. 
  • 593 hippos. The mountain is 9,852 feet tall (3002.89 m).

Weight

  • 1,500 kg (3,310 lb.)
  • How many hippos go into the weight of the total number of hippos in the wild… in Colombia? They are estimated to grow to a population of around 1,400 in the next 15 years. 
  • Hint: There are hippos in Columbia.
  • 120 hippos.

Fast Facts

  • They will eat meat and even cannibalize each other in extreme circumstances, though they are not built to eat meat. 
  • Like pandas, they are born sterile and eat their mother’s waste to gain gut bacteria. 
  • They use echolocation, but we don’t know what for.

Fast Facts

  • Range: Scattered riverlands all across Sub-Saharan Africa with the exception of Madagascar and the Kalahari Desert.
    • It spends most of its time in freshwater lakes and rivers, but in West Africa it tends to live in brackish estuaries and sometimes swims out to the ocean.
  • Diet: Almost exclusively eats land grass. It actually doesn’t eat a whole lot of aquatic plants.
    • It will pretty much eat any plants you put in front of it as well as carrion and occasional cannibalism. 
  • Behavior: 
    • Gloria is a “pseudo ruminant”, so it has a three-chambered stomach like a cow but it doesn’t chew cud.
    • Despite having webbed feet and spending a ton of time in the water, it is a bad swimmer and can’t float. So it spends its water time walking along the bottom of the river or lake.
    • It can hold its breath for up to about five minutes, which doesn’t seem like a lot for an animal that spends so much time underwater. But it rises to breathe unconsciously, even in its sleep.
    • They live for about 50 years in the wild
  • They actually secrete a red substance that people have called blood sweat. But it’s not blood or sweat, just a natural sunscreen. 
  • Infamous drug lord and insane rich guy Pablo Escobar had a private zoo in his estate in Colombia that had four hippos in it. 
    • After authorities tucked Escobar in for his dirt nap, they didn’t move the hippos and they multiplied to 16. 
    • After a few of the hippos attacked some people, those same authorities also tucked in one of the hippos for his nap.
    • But hippies got mad about that, so everyone decided to just let hippos be Columbian animals.
  • We almost had hippos in the US too. A few enterprising men that met fighting on opposite sides of the Second Boer War in South Africa. They were actually under orders to assassinate each other. 
    • One guy, Fritz Duquense, was an assassin, spy, journalist, soldier, big-game hunter, and eventual Nazi. Quite possibly one of the most interesting people ever.
    • They wanted to introduce hippos to eat an annoying plant in the bayous of Louisiana and also to be a source of domestic meat. It was even backed by Teddy Roosevelt and the papers called hippo meat as “lake cow bacon”
    • Fortunately, the hippo bill never passed.

Major Fact

The hippopotamus is known to be one of the most aggressive megafauna in Africa, hippos are known to chomp down on crocodiles in their waters. There’s even a video of a hippo saving an antelope by crushing a croc.

But before you think they are altruistic, they may also attack impalas and other herbivores just for wandering into their territories to escape predators. 

They’re also thought to kill around 500 people every year. 

But what makes them so mean?

The main reason is that they are extremely territorial. Though they are gregarious, they really aren’t social. The only members of a herd to develop a social bond are mothers and daughters. Everyone else keeps to themselves. 

Males control a short stretch of river that’s also populated by females. Their control of their territory ensures their mating rights with the surrounding females. They will also allow adolescent males to enter their territory, as long they are submissive to the dominant male. But that also may be because young males and females are indistinguishable. 

Male aggression comes from a fierce defense of their territory. There seems to be no partiality when it comes to species. Females aren’t above aggression either. They will charge and chomp anything that seems to threaten their calves. Hippos also get upset if you block them from getting into the water.

They also seem to dislike disturbances in their territory. When prey animals struggle against predators, hippos may be equally as likely to kill the prey as they are the predators, just to get some peace and quiet. 

Their aggression mixed with the way they control stretches of river as their territory, seem to contribute to their conflicts with other animals and people. Rivers are important sources of food and water, and animals are forced to venture near them, despite danger. 

In 2020, a perfect storm of floods and the bad economic downturn has put Kenyan fishermen in direct conflict with hippos. Fish are in high demand as COVID-19 causes bad economics in Kenya, sending more people to the water. Hippos are able to capsize boats, drowning or killing people in the process. Around 40 fishermen were attacked around Lake Naivasha in Kenya in 2020.

Ending: So wear sunscreen, eat your leafy greens, and never give up without a fight like the hippo here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.