When I was a child growing up in California, my family made an annual trip to Disneyland, which was a short drive away. My mother always insisted we all go on the "Jungle Cruise," a boat ride through an unnamed "wilderness". My brother, sisters, and I weren't terribly excited about it because it wasn't one of the fast, exciting rides, but it still made an unforgettable impression. I remember the large (mechanical) hippos in the water that would open their mouths in a threatening way just as the boat was approaching. Never did I imagine one day I would see a real hippopotamus in the wild!
A hippopotamus is a magnificent beast. It's the third largest land animal (behind the elephant and rhinocerous). An adult weighs between 2,000 and 6,000 pounds! How many more pounds does it weigh than YOU???
Our guide, Robert, told us that more tourists are killed by hippos than any other animal in the Serengeti area. The guides consider it the most dangerous animal in Africa. Maybe that's because people assume because it's so big, it's also slow. Not true! A hippo can run faster than a person, and actually has a pretty bad temper. So make a mental note to yourself now: "Next time I'm near a hippo, don't annoy it. I must keep my distance!"
The hippo is nocturnal, so it spends most of its day snoozing in the river or lake. When we drove up to our first river, I saw only large rocks….Then one moved! I realized my mistake at once, and called out, "Hippos!" as I grabbed my camera. Robert just smiled. He had known I'd be delighted by this unexpected surprise.
They looked just like the ones at Disneyland! (Although I felt too silly telling that to Robert.) The difference, of course, is that these hippos were real. That meant they were unpredictable. One moment a hippo is lazily resting in the water, and the next its mouth is wide open and it's ready to bite another hippo that's come too close.
Some people think hippos sweat blood. The truth is that their sweat is reddish looking, and rather oily, but it's not blood. Actually, they're sweating sunscreen! This oily liquid coats a hippo's back and keeps the animal from getting sunburned in the hot African sun. Staying in the water, and putting mud on its back also helps.
The hippopotamus and the oxpecker bird have a symbiotic relationship. Just like the warthog and the oxpecker, they're interdependent. The birds sit on the back of the hippo and eat the bugs that eat the hippo – good for the birds and good for the hippo! That's a win-win situation!
If you want to see a hippo walking around, you have to get up very early. Hippos graze in the grass all night long, sometimes walking six miles in one night! In the morning, they begin walking back to the river for another day of rest.
Looking at the hippo's body, in what ways is it well-suited for both land and water? How would the ecosystem change if there were no hippos?