Animals of Africa: Hippos are Aquatic During the Day and Land-Bound at Night

July 17, 2012
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On your next Kenya & Tanzania safari, be sure to carefully scan the surfaces of rivers and lakes for hints of hippos gliding in the depths below. These giants may lumber about a bit clumsily on the land, but once they are in the water they find a natural grace that is best explained by example. Whenever your safari exploration leads you along the river banks in Africa, you should watch for these creatures.

Hippos are the second heaviest land mammals in Africa behind elephants and the third largest in the world when white rhinos are considered, but you'd never know it to see them swimming through the water. They tend to tread through the waters with their eyes, noses and ears just above the water's surface, which makes them a bit difficult to spot from shore. When they are on land, the hippos' impressive size is more than apparent. They stand about five feet tall and can grow to be between 11 and 17 feet long. Males can weigh between 3,500 and 9,200 pounds, and females are typically smaller — about 3,000 pounds.

While hippos can venture away from the water, they typically don't do so for long. Since their skin is adapted to aquatic living, being on land for too long can lead to dehydration. However, hippos do have a unique trait that helps protect them when they come ashore.

While you may be sweating under the African sun, hippos do not encounter the same problem. They do not have sweat glands like humans or other animals. Instead, their skin secretes a thick red fluid often referred to as blood sweat. This secretion is used to create a protective layer over the hippos' skin to prevent sunburn and stave off dehydration.

Hippos also tend to leave the water mainly after the sun goes down. This is when they feed, filling their bellies with grass. Over the course of about six hours, hippos can eat as much as 80 pounds of grass, which is actually not a lot of food compared to their massive size — only about 2.5 percent of their body weight. They're also well adapted to go weeks without eating if food is scarce.

There are many hippos living in sub-Saharan Africa, so travelers are likely to encounter these massive, majestic creatures when they visit Kenya, Tanzania or Uganda.


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