Statistically, if you’re on the African subcontinent, you’re more likely to die in an attack by a hippo than by any other animal. They’re mean muthas.
Firstly, they’re big. A full grown large (or common) hippo enters the ring at a fighting weight of up to 4 tons. Even the pygmy hippo is a substantial 600 lbs fully grown. That’s a big pygmy, no? Interestingly, hippos are not big eaters, proportionately speaking. An adult common hippo eats only (!) about 80 lbs of grass and stuff per day, or about 1% of its bodyweight. A cow eats 2.5% of its own bodyweight. Maybe we should farm hippos instead of cows; much more efficient converters. That’s a joke, my urban warrior collective.
Incidentally, a hippo calf is born weighing about 80 lbs, after an amazingly short gestation of only eight months. The mother may give birth on land or in the water, which is where the idea of the human birthing pool came from I guess. A newborn hippo can hold its breath for about 40 seconds, or so I was told. Adults are even better at this. If you watch a slow moving river, you can often see v-shaped wakes on the surface, caused by hippos wandering down the riverbed. Hippos don’t float, so they can walk on the bottom. It’s like watching a small phantom flotilla topside.
It’s not true that hippos sweat blood. In fact they don’t strictly sweat at all, which is why they spend all the sunlight hours in water or wallowing in mud to keep cool and wet. If they do fetch up out of water, they do secrete a thick red goo, and this helps to keep the skin moist and also to ward off sunburn. Hippos, like domestic pigs, can suffer badly from this.
Frankly, I’d avoid wallowing anywhere near where a hippo has done. One of the ways that the males mark their territory is to swish their tails vigorously while they are defaecating, to splash their astonishingly copious turds around their home patch. I said copious. Eighty pounds of roughage a day is going to be an extremely moving experience, isn’t it?
The males have very bad anger management issues, and they’re tooled up for the job. Their canine teeth may be up to 20”, and they have jaws that can crush a whole white cabbage without even slowing down. To ward off enemies, a hippo may yawn, scoop water with its mouth, shake its head, rear up, lunge, roar, grunt, chase, and make a loud wheezing sound, all of which are threat displays. It’s a lot like the Yates’s in Harlow on a Saturday night. If all that posturing doesn’t work, the males will fight, and they inflict a lot of damage when they do. It’s not a half-hearted shoving match. It’s a proper full-on pagga, and if you get caught up in it you are in deep, deep trouble. Again, much like Harlow on a Saturday night.
There are two main ways to piss off a hippopotamus. One is to get between it and the water. They’re at home in rivers (hence the name hippopotamus, or river horse in Greek), and home is where the heart is. When startled or threatened they head straight for water, and woe betide you if you happen to be in the way.
The second way is to get anywhere near a mother and her calf anytime during the first two weeks or so after the birth. Mum and little Hip spend that time away from the herd so the calf imprints on her. They’re rather vulnerable away from the herd, so mum gets medieval on dangers. Do not mess with a recently calved female hippo. You have been warned.
By the way, hippopotamuses aren’t related to horses. There’s a pig connection. Also they belong to the family Artiodactylae, and this family includes, bizarrely, deer and antelopes.