Beady eyes and flicking ears skimming the surface of the water, accompanied by the occasional signature “wheeze-honk” and you are undoubtedly among the world’s third largest mammal. The hippopotamus derives its name from the Greek words ‘hippos’ which means horse and ‘potamos’ meaning river.

February 15th is World Hippo Day, and an occasion for us to celebrate these incredible creatures that play such a memorable part in the Zambezi Grande Private Game Experience.

Hippos are plentiful in Zambia’s many waterways, especially in the Lower Zambezi National Park. Population densities can be as great as 31 animals per square kilometre and often large groups of 60 or more individuals can be seen together, submerged in the water.

On safari, during the day, you will mostly find these enormous beauties wallowing, resting, and swimming in or near water. Mostly to combat the harsh and damaging effects of the African sun on their skin but also, as these animals cannot sweat, to keep cool.

Night time is when they emerge from the water to feed and graze. An individual may walk up to 10km in one evening just to find food, spending an average of 5-6 hours on land per night. That’s because an adult hippo can consume 68 kg of grass every night!

Hippos might look sturdy and slow, but they’re one of the most dangerous – and 8th quickest – animals in Africa. Though they are bulky animals, hippos can gallop at up to 30 km/h on land. But normally they prefer to trot. And both sexes are very aggressive. Males defending their territory may kill another hippo, and females will come together to jointly protect their offspring. Their main weapon is the set of large, sharp lower canines which, in males, may grow up to 50cm long.

A few fun facts for World Hippo Day:

  • Hippos play an important role in ecology. All the mud stirring from roaming in the river and the dung they drop in the water are actually beneficial to the fish population.
  • A adult Hippo can hold its breath for up to 5 minutes.
  • When hippos sleep underwater, they still resurface every three to five minutes to breathe without waking up.
  • Early European settlers believed that the hippo sweated blood! But now we know that they secrete an oily red liquid to protect themselves from the harsh UV rays of the sun and to add an additional defence against skin infections.
  • They mate and give birth in water.
  • Although they spend hours in water, hippos can’t really swim. Instead, they run along the bottom of the river.

These magnificent mammals used to live throughout sub-Saharan Africa, but because of illegal hunting for their skin and teeth, as well as human threats, their population is declining.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), following the ban on the international trade of elephant ivory, the demand for hippo teeth, as an affordable alternative, escalated sharply. Currently, the species is listed as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN.

The Hippo population in the Lower Zambezi National Park is healthy due to the support and protection of groups such as Conservation Lower Zambezi, and Zambezi Grande Private Game Experience continues to enjoy the reputation of being a pristine natural wildlife site to view these magnificent animals.