Hippos are the third-largest land mammal after the elephant and the rhinoceros. Weighing in at 1,500–1,800 kg (3,300–4,000 lb), an adult male stands up to 1.5m (4.5 feet) at the shoulder, and, oddly enough, their closest living relatives are whales and dolphins. Hippos spend most of their days submerged in water to keep cool, as they have no sweat glands.
Though they have webbed feet, their huge bulk prevents them from floating and they cannot swim. Their size does not, however, prevent them from outrunning a human – hippos have been estimated to reach terrifying speeds of up to 30 or even 40km per hour on land.
An adult hippo can spend as long as six minutes underwater, and their raised eyes, ears, and nostrils allow them to remain almost entirely submerged for long periods of time. After spending the day bathing, hippos venture out at dusk and spend the night grazing, traveling up to 8km (5 miles) and consuming up to 68kg (150lbs) of grass each night to maintain their enormous size.
If you were asked to list wildlife in Uganda, the hippo is one of the first animals that would come to mind.
Hippos are the second largest land animals in the world, only eclipsed in size by the elephant and can be seen quite easily in Uganda. Most of the lakes and rivers in the country are habitats for hippos. The full name is hippopotamus and derived from Greek to mean river horse. They are the third heaviest animals in the world. Elephants and rhinos are heavier than the hippos.
Here are a few interesting facts about the hippo
Diet: Hippos can eat up to 150 pounds (about 75kg) of food, which is primarily grass, in a day. They feed on grass, herbivores that they are, and can quite easily strip their habitats down to
bubble. They can weigh close to three tons; however their massive weight doesn’t slow them down on land. They can run 30 to 40 km per hour on land, which faster than humans.
Habitat: Hippos are what one would call semi aquatic. They spend time on both land and in the water. They actually spend quite a lot of their time in water, but cannot swim; they mostly just keep bouncing off the bottom of the water. Daytime for the hippos is mostly spent in water as a way to shield from the sun. Their bodies produce a natural sun screen, something a few humans would be grateful for. The sun screen is red in colour and has often been referred to as blood sweat.
Although often thought to be related to pigs, hippos are actually related whales and porpoises.
Life: Hippos have an average lifespan of 40 to 50 years. Physical growth stops at about 25 years of age. Being semi aquatic, they mate and give birth in water.
Hippos live in groups called pods. These usually constitute of male’s females and of course their young. Just like cattle, male hippos are called bulls; the females are called cows while the young ones are called calves.
Although herbivores are often thought to harmless, hippos are considered to be one of the most dangerous species in the world. It is best to keep your distance if you are on foot and near a hippo. They could trample you to death. There have been many deaths due to an encounter with a hippo.
Threats: Hippos like a lot of wildlife in Uganda and Africa, are threatened poachers and hunters. The hippos just like elephants have tusks which sold as ivory. Many hippos have been hunted and killed for their hides, and tusks. Some communities hunt them because they are considered dangerous, which they indeed are. These are usually fishing communities located near hippo habitats.
Where can you find Hippos in Uganda?
Hippopotamuses can be found in almost every national park that has a river or a lake within its boundaries. These include:
The Kazinga channel which runs through the park, has perhaps the highest concentration of hippos in Uganda and in Africa. Kazinga channel joins is a connecting stream (Mini River) between Lake George and Lake Edward.
If you take a boat ride on the kazinga channel during your Uganda safari in Queen Elizabeth you will be amazed at the number of hippos you will see. Hundreds upon hundreds of hippos along the shore and in the water, quite a sight to behold.
There was a time in the 1960s when the hippo population of hippos in the area was so high, that it was ok for people to eat hippo meat. The residents in the area developed a taste for it, and came up with various hippo recipes.
Although not as high as in the 1960s, the hippo population in QE is high, and it can be evidenced by the absence of grass on the shores of the Kazinga channel.
Murchison Falls National Park: one of the activities offered by Murchison falls national park to people on safari in Uganda is the Nile River Boat Ride. This boat ride takes you up the river Nile to the bottom of the magnificent Murchison falls. You will see quite a number of hippos along the shores of the Nile and in the water while on this boat ride, and of course get some amazing photo opportunities. You can also find some hippos on a downriver boat ride to Lake Albert and as you drive near Lake Albert Nile.
Lake Mburo national Park: Lake Mburo national park also offers boat rides on the lake which give you an opportunity to various pods of hippos along the lake shores. Although they are not as many here as in Queen Elizabeth and Murchison falls, there is quite an impressive concentration here as well.
Semiliki National Park: a boat ride on river Semiliki into Lake Albert gives you the opportunity to see some hippos. The hippo population here reduced due to the conflicts in Congo in which various animals were harmed including hippos. However both Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo are making efforts to conserve the hippo population along Semiliki River.
Hippos are a must see on any Uganda safari trip worth talking about, so be sure to include one of these parks on your safari itinerary, and enjoy yourself.
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