Some hippo facts
The word Hippo, is a Greek word and means horse, which is why hippos are often referred to as ‘river horses’. Their full name is Hippopotamus and their Swahili name is ‘Kiboko’. Although they look like a giant pig, their closest relative is actually a whale, which is a surprise.
Hippos are big and can weigh up to 3 and a half tons. They grow up to 13 feet long and stand 5 feet tall. They can live for up to 50 years but the oldest known hippo was a female called Donna who lived in a zoo in Indiana, America until she was 60. A real old lady!! The first hippo in captivity was called Obaysch, who appeared in London Zoo on 25th May 1850.
What do hippos eat?
Even though they only eat grass and herbs, they are very aggressive and are one of the most dangerous animals in the world, killing more humans than any other animal. So they are not the cute ‘happy hippo’ that you might see in cartoons or advertising chocolate eggs.
There are two types of hippo, the large hippo who lives mostly in East Africa where the only bigger animal is the elephant. The other is called a pygmy hippo, much smaller at between 400 and 600 pounds, living in West Africa and getting very rare these days.
Both types of hippos suffer at the hands of poachers and maybe that is why they are so aggressive to humans. The hunters go after them for their meat, skin and their teeth which are ivory. In fact,although a lot of people believed that the president of America, George Washington had wooden false teeth, he did in fact have teeth that were made of hippo teeth!!
How much do hippos eat? As I said before, hippos eat grass and because they are quite lazy animals, they don’t eat as much as you might think they do, only about 80 pounds, which is very little in comparison to their size. But they don’t need much energy as they sleep most of the day and graze at night. Another surprising thing about hippos is that they are very good climbers and will often climb up very steep slopes just to get to the lovely green grass on the top. They don’t go far though, only covering 1 or 2 miles each night.
Interesting behaviours about these big fat hippos
Despite their size, they can be very fast and can match the speed of a human up to about 19mph for quite a distance.They are graceful in the water too and can stay under for about 6 minutes before they have to come up for air.
Hippos stay in groups, which are called bloats and within the group there is always a head male, who has many females to look after.I am sure you will have seen pictures of hippos yawning but that is, in fact a threat display, warning any other male hippos to stay away from his females. Unfortunately, many males take no notice and terrible fights happen, often with fatal injuries as hippos are tremendously strong with sharp teeth. A smelly fact about hippos is that in order to tell other males to stay away, they have a poo in the water and then wiggle their tail to spread it all about—very smelly!!
When the baby hippos are born, they usually weigh about 55 to 120 pounds and are sometimes born under water. Their mothers are very protective towards them, not just for crocodiles but from male hippos too who will attack the babies when they are in the water but strangely, not when they are on the land.
Hippos spend most of their days in the water close to the shore, lying on their bellies and if they are in an area where they are sure there are no people,they will lie on the shore, enjoying the hot morning sun. Hippos do not have sweat glands though but what they do have is a strange gland that gives out an oily red liquid, which acts as a moisturiser for their skin but it makes it look as if they are sweating blood—very scary!!