The Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. (Picture source: disneyandmore.blogspot.com/2010/03/jungle-cruise-original-artwork.html)

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!

Hippos spend most of their day sleeping in a river.

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!"

Hippos submerge almost their entire bodies in the water.

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.

A hippo keeps just its eyes, nose, and ear above the water.

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.

Hippos keep cool by spending most of their time in the water during the day.

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.

An oxpecker bird sits on a hippo, eating the bugs that are eating the hippo.

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!

A hippo finishes breakfast before heading into the river for the day.

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?

56 thoughts on “Hippopotamuses

    • I don’t know. I didn’t find the information when I googled it, and I didn’t get close enough to measure! If you find the information please let us know on this blog!

  1.  I've never saw a hippo before. I thought that there was bigger land animals than the hippo but it is the third biggest land animal. Seeing them in real life must be awesome.

  2. Do hippos have water resistant eyes like fish? Do they fling their tails around and snort water if they are annoyed or are threatning you? Where do they sleep and how long do they sleep? What eats the hippo other than the human?

    • Michael, I haven’t been able to find any information about water-resistant eyes on the hippo, but I know they can see under water, just as a human can. Usually a hippo will open its mouth really wide to look threatening. I saw one hippo do this to another in the Mara River – quite an amazing sight! They fling their tails around when they poo. They want to spread it around to mark their territory. They sleep in the river, with just their eyes, ears and nose above the water. Sometimes they sleep on the river bank. They sleep through most of the day since they’re out grazing on grass at night. Sometimes crocodiles in the water, or hyenas on land, will attack a baby hippo, but a grown hippo doesn’t have any predators.

  3. Wow I can not belive your in South Africa! Heres some questions, Is their any animal that wieghs more then the hippo? What is the favorite animal you saw? Was their any animal you never saw before? Hope to see you soon!
               I hope you have a great year in South Africa:) 🙂 🙂 Keep on posting cool facts. We miss you

    • Thanks Madison! There are several whales and a shark that are heavier than the hippo. The Blue Whale is the heaviest. Of the land animals, the African Elephant is the heaviest, followed by the Asian Elephant, followed by the rhinocerous, followed by the hippo. Try googling it. You’ll find lots of fascinating facts, as I did. I had never seen any of the African animals in the wild before. That’s what made the trip so exciting!

    • Hi Sophie and Jennifer. I think you are getting tooooooo crazy working together! What do you mean, “Did a hippo come up to you and sniff you?”?! I would be dead if it did! These big, wild creatures can be very aggressive. I kept a distance from all of the wild animals (and used the zoom feature on my camera for close-up shots). The animals may look cute, but they’re real animals and they’re wild. The hippos go in the water to cool off and to keep their skin from getting burned by the hot African sun. I LOVED the link you included to Kids’ National Geographic. Thanks! Did you see the underwater video on the site showing the interdependent relationship between the hippo and the fish? Wow! Talk about gross but fascinating! What incredible video footage!

    • They can live about 50 years and then die of old age. If they die younger it might be because they were in a fight with another hippo, or maybe they caught a disease.

  4. Wow, Ms. Christe-Blick. It must have been so cool to see all of those hippos! What do they eat? Do they ever go fully under the water?

    • Hippos are herbivores. They eat grass all night long. Yes, I saw some of the hippos go all the way under the water for several minutes. Two were walking underwater and accidentally ran into each other, so they started fighting – quite a sight! They can stay underwater for about 5 minutes, and then must come up to breathe. They’re able to close their nostrils when they’re under water.

    • Hippos are nice to look at, but watch out! They are very aggressive. That means they like to fight. They are also very territorial, so if a person or another animal is in their territory they’ll charge it.

    • I lost count, we saw so many. We saw them in a lake and also in at least two rivers. In total, we probably saw about 50. Some of the males were over 5 feet tall (at the shoulder) and weighed over 4000 pounds. That’s big!

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