Hippopotamus or Hippo is exceptional herbivorous wildlife species that can be encountered during <a href=”http://www.ugandawildlifecentre.com/wildlife-safaris/”>safaris in Uganda</a>. Hippos or Hippopotami mainly feed on grass weighing up to 150 pounds and are mainly found within water bodies. They mainly feed at night and spend most of their day in water to protect against the sun. Being in water makes them semi-aquatic animals although they cannot swim and only bounce on the bottom of the River or Lake. Their bodies release a natural sunscreen colored red sometimes referred as blood sweat.
Hippos are the second largest land animals after the Elephants and the third heaviest animals after the elephants and Rhinos. A mature Hippo weighs between one and three tons, whereby the males are obviously larger than their female counterparts. Interestingly, Hippos are very fast regardless of their weight and can run faster than humans.
They are mistakenly assumed to be related to the Pigs yet in actual sense are related to porpoises and whales. Did you even imagine something like that? But it’s true. Their lifespan is normally between 40 and 50 years, and copulate/conceive and give birth while in the water. Hippos always grow and increase in size until around 25 years of age. Live in schools or pods and the male ones are known as Bulls, the female ones are Cows while the young ones are calves.
The shocking but true fact about the Hippos is that they are the most dangerous animals in the whole World, even more than Lions that we all fear and most of the deaths of fishermen is caused by these animals. It is therefore advisable to keep a distance from them if moving on foot, otherwise you will not realize how they will knock you. However, they are threatened because of the high demand for their meat, tusks and skin mainly because of the danger they pose to the local communities. There have been cases of small boats or canoes being overturned by hippos but this should not worry you during launch trips because they can’t overturn the heavy motorized vessels and the activity is not conducted at the shores of lakes or Rivers.
Where to look for them
You can expect to see several hundred hippos on the boat launch to the base of Murchison Falls. While on game drives you will likely see them along the delta, in wallows in the savanna areas and, at night, look right outside your tent. While hippos are entirely dependent on water during the day, at night they may travel as far as 15 or 20 kilometers away from water to find good grasses to graze.
- Hippos invented sunscreen! Their naked, porous skin is very vulnerable to both sunburn and dehydration. As a defense, they secrete a red fluid that acts as sunscreen, antiseptic, and water-loss sealant. Because of this secretion, the ancient Greeks claimed the hippo “sweats blood.”
- Hippos can be up to half the weight of an elephant, but only eat about one fourth the amount of food. Spending their days in the buoyancy of water reduces their energy expenditure significantly.
- When it hits the fan… Never stand too close to a defecating hippo. They spin their tails like a propeller to spray the feces on the shore to advertise their presence or during conflicts with rivals.
Their range in Africa has been severely restricted. Their population within national parks is stable, although they are a desirable target for poachers due to their reportedly delicious meat.
35 to 50 years
They spend days in water and nights grazing on land. Spending days in water has many benefits – protection, buoyancy for reduced energy expenditure, and protection from the sun. (Kingdon, p. 324)
Upper altitude limit is about 2,000 meters. (Kingdon, p. 325)
Large groups favor slow-moving water or lakes with shallow, sloping shorelines. Individuals or small groups may spend days in small wallows or quick-moving rivers (Kingdon, p. 325 and personal observation)
Originally, hippos were found throughout Africa and much of Asia (esp. India), with up to 8 species living in Africa alone. At least three species have been eliminated during historical times from Madagascar. Now restricted to waterways in southern Africa. (Kingdon, p. 324)
Murchison Falls National Park has one of the highest concentrations of hippos on earth, along the stretch of the River Nile below the falls.
Creeping and tussock grasses, especially Cynodon and Panicum species. Also favor Brachiara, Themeda, Chloris and Setaria. Can ingest up to 60kg per night by grabbing clumps of grass and tearing it out by swinging its head. Seldom spends more than 5 hours out of the water feeding each night. (Kingdon, p. 325)
Grassy lawns that have been kept short through continual grazing are preferred to longer, coarser grasses. (Estes, p. 223)
Gestation period of 6 – 8 months, after which usually only one young is born. (Estes, p. 222)
Young have adapted the ability to suckle under water by wrapping their tongues around the nipple. (Kingdon, p. 324)
Breeding is not strictly seasonal, but most mating happens during the dry season and most births during the wet season. Females conceive the first time around 9 years of age and calve at 2-year intervals. Pregnant mothers isolate themselves prior to calving and will avoid the herd for up to 2 weeks. Young are born underwater. They begin grazing a little by 1 month, a lot by 5 months, and are weaned around 8 months. (Estes, p. 225)
Hippos can remain under water for up to six minutes. In a bluff charge, they will lunge above the water line. In a real attack, they remain below the surface. (Walker, p. 140)
Very gregarious when in the water – will spend time in groups of over 100. Solitary while foraging at night unless female with dependent offspring. (Estes, p. 223)
Will be far more condensed during the dry season around sources of permanent water. During rainy season will be much more dispersed in temporary wallows and smaller water sources. (Estes, p. 223)
Mature bulls (20 years and older) will control sections of a river or lake-shore as exclusive mating territory. They have been known to hold territories for up to 8 years, but in areas with high competition, turnover may happen every few months. Dominant bulls will tolerate other males as long as they show submission and do not try to mate. They deal with rivals fiercely. Lone hippos may be either outcasts or territorial bulls without herds. (Estes, p. 223)
Bonds between mothers and daughters are persistent and may last until the sub-adult stage, meaning that a mother may have up to 4 daughters with her at any given time. (Estes, p. 223)
Hippos in water surface generally every minute and a half, although they can stay submerged much longer. They will even sleep under water and emerge involuntarily to breath. They can walk easily underwater, and even on land, where they are much clumsier, they can reach speeds of 30 kph. (Estes, p. 224)
Bulls will sometimes kill calves, and mothers may attack bulls who threaten a nursery herd. (Estes, p. 225)
Young males begin practice-sparring by the time they are 7 years old. Actual fights often result in deep gashes to the loser, but skin 6 cm thick keeps real damage to a minimum. Crushing bites to head, neck and legs are the most serious, and not uncommonly result in death. (Estes, p. 225)
Scent-marking is very important. When they defecate, they wag their tails like a propeller to spread the feces. (Kingdon, p. 324)
There is little sexual dimorphism, inconspicuous coloration and appendages, and no facial expressions. This limits communication to auditory, olfactory and possibly tactile. They are extremely vocal in the water [personal observation], but mostly silent on land (Kingdon, p. 224)
Territorial bulls, when they encounter each other, will turn around and dung-shower each other with their tails. I have found no indication of how they determine the winner of the encounter. Perhaps it is simply to give an intruder the chance to compare the odor to that found in dung piles placed around the territory. (Estes, p. 224)
Threat displays: yawning, with or without water scooping, head shaking, rearing, lunging, roaring, grunting, chasing, explosive exhalation, dung-showering.
Submissive displays: face aggressor with mouth open or turning around, lying prone or fleeing. (Estes, p. 225)
Daytime is spent in water resting and digesting. Late evening into night time is spent foraging, with a maximum distance traveled of 10 km (usually more like 5 km). (Estes, p. 224)
Look for huge tracks, pathways leading from water, closely cropped lawns and accumulation of dung. (Kingdon, p. 325)
Dung looks much like the dung of an elephant that has been feeding on grass. When defecation happens in the water, it is eaten by fish. (Walker, p. 141)
Trails are surprisingly narrow for such a wide animal – about 20 cm wide. (Walker, p. 141 and personal observation)
Humans are the primary predators. No other natural predators except occasional crocodile taking young. Calves may be trampled by adults hippos, especially bulls. (Estes, p. 223)
Therefore, these large mammals can be sighted within the following places while on Uganda safaris;
Lake Mburo National Park
Participating in a boat ride within Lake Mburo offers unforgettable opportunities for seeing numerous Hippos since the Lake is their home and habitat. The motorized boats move to the Eastern shores of Lake Mburo where you will see schools of Hippos although their numbers are not as high as in Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth and Nile River or Lake Albert within Murchison falls National Park where their numbers are immeasurable.
Murchison Falls National Park
These animals can be seen within the Nile River hence can be spotted during boat rides to the bottom of the Murchison Falls. As a matter of fact, this site offers the best numbers of Hippos hence worth visiting on a safari. This Site comes after the Kazinga Channel in terms of opportunities for seeing the Hippos.
Semliki Forest National Park
Hippos are common within the Semuliki River in this Park and when you undertake a boat ride to the Lake Albert, you will be amazed by the Hippo numbers in this River. Semliki River flows through the borders of two countries-the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda but the conflicts in the former makes it a high risk for the Wildlife species including the Hippos.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
The Kazinga Channel (of 40 kilometers long) connecting Lake George and Edward is a wonderful habitat offering the highest concentration of Hippos hence a perfect destination for a safari to see them. Therefore, schools of Hippos can be sighted when you participate in a launch cruise in the Kazinga Channel
In conclusion, Hippos are one of the important wild animals in Uganda and can be sighted within Lake Mburo National Park, within the Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park, the Nile River within Murchison falls National Park and the Semuliki River in Semuliki Forest National Park.