The mighty hippopotamus is characterised as jolly throughout the world but in Africa, we know their true nature and that their lazy looks can be deceiving.

If you are lucky, while touring Balule and staying in our comfortable accommodation, you might see a few of these animals enjoying a frolic in the water. To make the sighting even more memorable, here are some facts you should know:

Facts about hippos

  • Hippos are extremely dangerous, both in and out of the water. They are known as Africa’s most dangerous animal, and are responsible for killing humans who make their homes along the rivers and dams on the continent.
  • That cute hippo yawn you see? Be warned, it is not a yawn but rather it is the animal showing aggression.
  • Hippos spend their days submerged in the water as they have extremely sensitive skins. When their skin is exposed to the sun they secrete a red oily substance that acts as a natural sunblock and moisturiser.  This has given rise to a myth that they sweat blood.
  • Although hippos spend most of their time in the water, they are not able to breath under water and have to come up to the surface every 3-5 minutes to breath. This is a natural reflex and hippos will surface to breath even in their sleep.  Another myth is that hippos can swim or float.  This is in fact not true, instead they walk along the bottom of the river or water hole.
  • Often referred to as the “River Horse”, these large mammals weigh up to 2.5 tons and despite their size they can reach a speed of up to 30 km per hour over short distances.
  • During the night or cooler parts of the day, hippos leave the water and walk considerable distances in order to forage. They eat up to 70kg of food in one night, which considering their size is a small amount.
  • Hippos are gregarious and live in pods of up to 20.
  • They are closely related to whales even though their paths diverged about 55 million years ago.
  • Under the right conditions, hippos can live up to 40 years.
  • After a gestation period of 240 days, the cow will give birth to one calf, usually in shallow water. Here the calf will stay hidden in the reeds for a few days after which it will join the herd.  Myth has it that the mother carries the baby, but actually the baby, not able to retain body heat as its mother does, will lean the front part of its body onto an adult to “sun bath”.
  • South Africa had a legendary hippo known as Huberta. She captured the attention of both local and international media. During three years she walked several thousand kilometres, from Kwa-Zulu Natal to King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape back in 1928.  To this day it is unknown why she did this.

African Folklore

Folklore has a story of how the hippo came to live in the water, a story that gets repeated around the campfire.  It goes like this:

“Millennia ago, very few animals lived in the rivers or dams in Africa.  Africa’s harsh climate caused many of the animals to have great discomfort, even though they had fur, feathers or scales.

Poor hippo had none of this protection and as he grew, and his skin stretched, it became more and more sensitive.

Eventually hippo could no longer take the heat and asked permission from the Creator to live in the water.  The Creator told him he would have to ask permission from the water dwellers as he is extremely large and they will be concerned that he will eat all the food in the water.

Hippo assured the water dwellers that he is vegetarian and will eat only vegetation found in and around the water.  The river dwellers, sceptical, made hippo promise that every day he will open his mouth wide so that they can inspect his mouth to see that there are not fish bones or scales.

Hippo also promised to use his tail to spread his dung so that they may inspect it for bones.  Satisfied, the river dwellers allowed hippo to live in the water and to this day you will find that a hippo opens his mouth every day and still spreads his dung with his tail.”

Learn about the hippo and all sorts of other wildlife and the folklore attached to each, when you stay at our luxury bush lodge accommodation deep in the heart of Balule. Book your stay today.