Scientific Name: Hippopotamus amphibius
While they spend most of their lives in the water, surprisingly, hippos cannot swim!
The hippo is the “King of the River,” spending most of its time in the water, coming out to graze at night on the grass.
STATUS: Hippos are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
HABITAT: Confined to rivers, lakes, and swamps of sub-Saharan Africa. Hippos need sufficient water in which they can totally submerge.
DIET: Hippos are grazers, preferring short grass. They require less food daily than many other hoofed animals because of their sedentary lifestyle.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Hippos are the only artiodactyls (even-toed ungulates) with four toes on each foot. Males grow to 11 feet and weigh up to 7,000 pounds, while the females are smaller, up to 3,000 pounds. It was originally thought that hippos could “sweat blood,” but in reality they possess a unique gland that produces a viscous red fluid that functions like a sunscreen to protect their thick skin from sunburn and infection. Hippos live an average lifespan of 35 years in the wild or 50 years in captivity.
King of the River
Hippos live in pods of 10 to 150 individuals. The bulls occasionally fight for territory and mates; males can run up to 35 miles an hour for short bursts in order to chase off a rival. Bulls have an odd habit of spinning their tail while marking their territory with dung.
Females give birth away from the herd, while submerged underwater. A single calf is born (rump first), which immediately paddles to the surface for breath then submerges again to nurse. They will bond for two weeks before rejoining the herd. Babies can often be seen resting on their mothers’ backs.
The hippo can remain submerged water for five minutes at a time, closing its ears and nostrils. With eyes, ears, and nostrils on the top of the head, hippos are able to hear, see, and breathe while most of their body is submerged.
A whole ecosystem depends on the mighty hippos; for example, their dung provides nutrition for many species, from invertebrates to fish. They also keep the waterways free-flowing by consuming aquatic plants.