Beware of the herbivore that sharpens its own teeth and runs as fast as a galloping horse. Responsible for more human deaths than any other, this mammal is one of the planet’s deadliest
Despite their vegetarian status, hippos are equipped with all of the tools necessary to take down a carnivore. Just a glimpse of the long, curved teeth during an afternoon yawn can be enough to make a predator think twice. Hippos can also communicate about nearby predators while underwater. With the eyes and ears above the surface, they emit calls that cannot be heard above the water. Male hippos fiercely defend territories of water and land, and don’t tolerate trespassers.
Remember these steps to avoid upsetting a hippo if you’re ever lucky enough to come across one..
Danger in numbers
You may see hippos on land or in water, and wherever they are it’s crucial to avoid concentrated areas. On land, avoid entering thicket as hippos may be hiding out in vegetation. If in a boat or canoe, keep your distance and don’t enter rivers occupied with large hippo groups.
Let a little bird tell you
Listen out for oxpecker calls. These birds feed on skin fragments and parasites on the rhino’s hide, and may give away a lurking hippo.
Get off the ground
Even though a hippo can run, it cannot climb. If you are being chased, find a tree or termite mite in which to take refuge. It’s unlikely that you’ll be out on safari alone, and your guide will be able to instruct you further.
Location, location, location
Beware of where you’re standing and make sure you aren’t putting yourself in the way of danger. Don’t stand between a hippo and water, and if you’re in a boat, make sure you don’t trap a hippo in shallow water.
Beware of babies
Whatever you do, don’t get anywhere near a young hippo. Mothers will defend their young to the death, and their teeth can rip through flesh as if it were butter. If you find yourself in the presence of a hippo and her young, retreat backwards and attract the attention of your guide.
Advertise your position
If in a canoe or small boat, knock on the hull to let submerged hippos know you’re above them. If your vessel is upturned you’re in danger. Make sure you don’t graze a hippo with your paddle as they won’t tolerate what appears to be a direct attack.
Photographs: Malcolm Macgregor, Martin Fisch