On average, hippos are responsible for around 500 deaths a year (some sources claim closer to 3000) which makes it one of Africa’s worst killers. Male hippos are especially territorial and will defend their stretch of river. Females on the other hand will attack anything that gets between her and her calf. Add to this the fact that hippos like to come out of the rivers at night to graze on the grass along the shore. Get between them and the water is a recipe for disaster.
They are huge, weighing in at 3 300 lb (1 500 kg) but they can run at around 20 mph (32 km/h). couple this with its body weight, strength, size of its mouth that opens 150 degrees, and size of its teeth one can only imagine what happens if it catches up to some luckless soul…
What could one expect when getting caught?
On land one is likely to be trampled and probably bitten – ones best means of escape is up a tree or over a wall of sorts.
In the water….
The size of the incisors being up to 1 ft 4 inches (40 cm) and the canines up to a whopping 1 ft 8 inches (50 cm). One bite could be fatal, but they are inclined to throw their opponent in the air, catching them time and again, each time those teeth penetrating ones body. Then it shakes you like a dog would do with a rat, except perhaps, with more ease.
One could read up on Paul Templer’s experience in Zimbabwe where he lost his arm and very nearly his life. He gives a full description of an attack in the water.
The best thing is to have some knowledge about the animal before getting into a situation. Yawning for instance is not what it seems but apparently a warning sign. Move away making space.
On the rivers steer well clear of groups of animals, males regularly ram boats and you don’t want to be in the water with him. They move with incredible speed through the water – if in doubt just have a look at some of the you-tube videos on hippo attacks.
When on safari and moving around at night, even in campsites (some campsites are not fenced and they come up at night to eat the grass) – think defensively. Check where trees are and walls or other obstacles that could save your life, so if something happens suddenly, you know where to run to and what to do. Its the seconds that count in these situations…
Females only calve once every two years and the calves can drink underwater by sealing the teat between its tongue and the roof of its mouth. In addition, closing its nostrils and ears keeps the water out.
At night hippos can travel up to 10 km to graze on grass – they need about 150 lb (68 kg) of it each night.
Hippos don’t have true sweat glands but secrete a red substance that helps protect them from sunburn and also has antibacterial properties. With hippos being such consistent fighters they need this red antibacterial substance as it stops or reduces the chances of infections.