Hippos spend most of their day lolling about in water and can stay submerged for more than 10 minutes. If a small fishing boat or canoe filled with tourists happens to be above their heads when they come up for air, there's little to protect the vessel from capsizing. Anyone who has spent time in Southern African waters surrounded by pods of hippos can attest to the terrifying feeling you get when you're surrounded by these huge snorting fellows. (The only land animal that's bigger than the hippo is the elephant).
Male hippos actively defend their territories which run along the banks of the rivers and lakes where they live. Humans tend to get killed by hippos when they stand on a riverbank or beach that a male hippo considers to be his territory.
Females have also been known to get extremely aggressive if they sense anyone coming in between their babies, who stay in the water while she feeds on the shore. Hippos can run at speeds of over 20 miles an hour and they have enormous jaws which host up to 20 inch canines. There's not a lot you can do if one comes straight at you.
Some more interesting facts about the hippo:
- Hippos secrete a natural sunscreen that is colored red and eventually turns brown
- The hippo's closest living relative is the whale
- Fully grown hippos consume over 100 pounds of vegetation per day.
- Hippos regularly kill crocodiles
- The hippo is in danger of becoming extinct
- Hippos can't jump
Image of a hippo at Mana Pools, Zimbabwe by © David Hutchinson