Hippopotami, or hippos for short, stay in or near the shallow waters of swamps, rivers and lakes in parts of central, eastern and southern sub-Saharan Africa. Their diet consists of grasses, leaves, flowers, bark and stems. The average lifespan of hippos in their natural habitat and in captivity is 55 years.
Hippopotamus (showing its tusks)
Hippopotamus with closed mouth
Scientific & Common Names
The scientific name of the Hippopotamus is Hippopotamus amphibius. Common names for it include the large hippo and the common hippo. There is also another species of hippopotamus, Choeropsis liberiensis, commonly known as the pygmy hippo.
Hippos have grayish or slate-colored skin over much of their body. They have pinkish skin around their ears and eyes. Hippos are bulky mammals that are able to move fast over land and in water. They have webbed feet, short and powerful legs and small, rounded ears. Adult hippos weigh between 5,000 and 8,000 pounds and measure between 9.5 and 14 feet long. Pygmy hippos, which have more elongated necks and legs, weigh between 352 and 605 pounds and measure between 4 and 6 feet long as adults.
Hippos breed throughout the year, although more breeding tends to occur between February and August. Females have a gestation period that lasts for roughly 324 days and produce one calf at a time. Calves weigh close to 100 pounds when they are born and are able to nurse underwater or on land. Mothers and their calves maintain a close relationship and join a group of hippos, or school, for better protection from predators, such as crocodiles.
Hippos live in schools of 20 to 100 members. Schools are led by dominant females, while males are mainly in charge of guarding calves and females. Hippos show dominance through several behaviors, including yawning and clashing their jaws. They also communicate by vocalizing. They spend most of the daytime resting in water before venturing onto land at dusk to feed throughout the night. When they are on land during the day, they secrete a red-colored pigment that protects their sensitive skin from the sun.
Hippos were once more widespread throughout Africa, but they are no longer present in Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania. Pygmy hippos are no longer found in Nigeria.
The common hippo is listed as vulnerable, while the pygmy hippo is listed as endangered due to deforestation. The main threats to common hippos are habitat loss and illegal hunting for ivory and meat. Common and pygmy hippos are protected by legislation.