The great African Hippopotamus is one of the most iconic of all the African land animals and second in weight only to the elephant.

They are found in western, central, eastern and southern Africa with the highest concentration in the Rift Valley of east and central Africa.

They are ideally adapted to the deep rivers and grassy feeding grounds that form its habitat, spending up to eighteen hours a day in water to keep its body temperature constant and to support its huge frame.

What do hippos do?

The hippo lives in groups of 15 to 20 animals, although these groups can be much bigger under certain circumstances. The hub of the group is a band of females with their young. This nursery group lives on a territory patrolled by a dominant, solitary male – usually at least 20 years old.

Younger males stay in small bachelor groups, and woe betide them is they dare to approach the nursing females. The dominant male uses its greater bulk and long teeth to deter any impudent intruders.

A dominant male is able to defend his territory in this way for up to ten years until finally, a fierce fight with a rival eventually ends his rule. These fights for dominance can even result in death!

Having proved that he is the dominant challenger, the rival then takes his place as the new dominant male in that territory.

Should dominant males meet at the edges of their boundaries, they will turn back to back and defecate, spreading their dung far and wide using their short, flat tails like cricket bats.

Hippo breeding

When a female is ready to mate she will seek out an adult male. About 34 weeks after mating the female leaves the group, and a single calf is born among reeds trampled down by the mother at the edge of the lake. Sometimes the young is born underwater, under these circumstances the baby has to surface quickly in order to draw its first breath.

Within five minutes of giving birth the calf is able to swim and walk. The mother will suckle her young for about 8 months, although the baby will stay with her for several years.

A female is often seen with several young behind her, the youngest will be closest to her while the oldest will be at the end of the line.

Hippopotamus facts

1. Hippos jaws can open to 150 degrees wide.

2. Up to 45% of hippos die in their first year.

3. The term ‘sweating blood’ come from the hippo’s ability to secret a pink fluid from glands beneath the skin.

4. A hippo is not able to survive for long on dry land as it loses water through its skin much faster than other land animals.

5. A hippo can stay underwater for up to 5 minutes and will often walk along the bottom of lakes.

6. Terrapins, birds, and even young crocodiles are often seen to be basking on the backs of hippos.

7. The name 'hippopotamus' comes from the ancient Greek for 'river horse'.

8. The hippo can easily outrun a human, and have been clocked at 30 km/h (19 mph) over short distances. 

9. The skin of the hippopotamus is 6 in (15 cm) thick.

10. When in combat, male hippos use their incisors to block each others attacks, and their lower canines to inflict damage. Luckily, hippos rarely kill each other, even in territorial challenges. 

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