The hippopotamus is common throughout the waterways of the African continent.
The Hippopotamus, or hippo for short, is one of the largest land mammals in the world. They are a dark purple-like color and have a very stocky build. They have very strong and large jaws that are used when males fight over mates and when predators need to be fended off. Males and females look almost identical with the main differences the size of their teeth and their overall size. Males reach sizes of an average of 1500 kg, while the average weight among females is around 1300 kg, though some of the largest individuals recorded weighing nearly double that.
Hippos are found widely throughout Africa, but are typically confined to areas near a perennial water source in which to live. They are found in areas of South Africa near rivers, particularly near the Limpopo river, along with parts of Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other equatorial countries, along with the southern parts of West Africa. Botswana's hippo populations are thriving, especially in the Okavango Delta region that floods every dry season. On the coast between Namibia and South Africa hippos are found in the shallows of the ocean near the beach, the only place on Earth where this occurs. Their Afrikaans name translates to "sea cow", which may have its origins here on southern Africa's west coast.
Hippos, like many water dependent animals, have suffered great losses as a species over the past few decades, with these same declines expected to persist in the near future, leading to their status as being vulnerable. Continued habitat loss has posed the greatest threat to their existence and has greatly cut down their populations in countries they previously thrived in, with some 7 – 20% declines reported, although their current population of 125 000 to 148 000 on estimate still seems quite strong. The Kruger National Park is one of the sanctuaries in which hippos are abundant, though the increased effects of climate change on the river and lake systems in particular may jeopardize the recent stabilization of their species.
Hippos are quite hardy animals, but do require a few things to make a habitat work for them – a water source in which they can completely emerge their large bodies during the day, along with a nearby grassland or woodland where they can graze. They have very sensitive skins that can easily dehydrate or get scorched by the warm African sun, which is why they are so dependent on a water source during the day. They only come out of this water and into the open at night, when they walk up to a few kilometers to feeding grounds to graze. Hippopotamusses do not eat aquatic plants.
Hippopotamusses are not territorial animals. Dominance hierarchies are based on size and determine which individuals get mates during the mating season. Hippos, otherwise, form groups of a few individuals who all inhabit the same water source by day. These groups are often related, especially in areas where the hippo population is sparse. They tolerate the presence of other creatures in the water, but do not respond with the same calmness when their young are threatened. Crocodiles can often be seen in amongst hippos in the water, and typically do not pose a threat to them, though young may sometimes be vulnerable.
In flourishing and vibrant hippo communities there are a number of everyday signs or sounds observers may notice. They often yawn or open their mouthes to intimidate opponents or predators in the area. The same displays are used when two males of this species settle a quarrel over a possible mate, though usually it goes past mere intimidation in such a situation. Two male hippos will lock mouths and push against each other to display their strength when fighting over a mate, with the loser often left injured. This kind of behavior peaks during mating times when females goes into heat. Furthermore, hippos make grunting noises to convey annoyance and joy, or keep others on high alert for predators.
Hippos generally mate around the driest times of the year, causing most births to occur during the rainy or wet season when offspring have the greatest chance at survival. Hippos have a gestation period of over 8 months after which a mother will give birth to a single calf. She can only start this process that results in beautiful young offspring being born around the age of 9 years, when she matures sexually. Males will know whether a female is in heat by carefully walking around the back of each female in their close vicinity to smell their genitals. Mothers can have new young every 2 years or so.
Hippos are fairly immune to predation for the most part and are not easily rattled by even the largest predators. Their young are however much more vulnerable in this regard, and often need protection from large plain predators – namely lions and spotted hyenas. For this reason mothers are on high alert when going out to graze with their young at night and can become very aggressive when their young are in any danger. Mothers are perfectly capable of protecting their young and even killing their attackers in the process, with their huge jaws and powerful bite force able to pierce a crocodile in half and kill a lioness.
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