One of the most feared animals on the planet, the hippo is the arguably the most dangerous animal on the African continent.

These giant mammals are very unpredictable and will charge without any warming. They are responsible for the most human deaths of any wild animal species.

This might come as a surprise to some, as the hippopotamus generally seems pretty unassuming. Particularly as it lazily wallows in the shallows all day.

However there is much more than meets the eye when it comes to these giants of water ways!

Get to know the hippo

 A typical hippo sighting | @tongabezi by Alicia Erickson

What is the Hippo?

The common hippo is the third largest living land mammal after the elephant and the white rhino. It takes second place when it comes to weight, as the bulk of an adult hippo is generally heavier than an adult rhino.

Hippo’s are aquatic mammals, also known as the ‘River Horse’. They are superbly adapted to a life in the water, and despite being able to walk and feed on land, they are largely dependant on the water to survive.

Hippo vs Rhino

Among those who don’t spend all their time watching Nat Geo documentaries, and aren’t so familiar with wildlife, the hippo and  rhino are often confused.

However, to those in the know, the differences are very obvious.

The rhino is characterised by its iconic horn, short neck and hunched-over stature. The white rhino has a flat, square lip and a large hump on its neck. Despite being of similar size, a hippo’s body looks quite different. They have a solid, barrel-shaped torso, large head, huge mouth and short, stubby legs.

Large white rhino with mud stripes
White rhino with ‘war paint’ mud markings | Marlon Du Toit (@marlondutoit)


What do hippos look like?

The hippo is a very large, solidly built animal. They have a barrel-like body with a huge head and four short legs. Their eyes, ears and nostrils are located high up on their heads which allows for them to sit submerged while still able to breath.

Hippos are entirely covered in purple-grey skin. They are completely hairless apart from the thick bristle-like hairs on their tails and heads. While their skin is extremely thick, the outer layer is quite thin and very susceptible to damage during territorial fights or conflict with predators.

Large Bull Hippo on the river bank
Dominant hippo bull | (@juzervajihee)

They don’t have true sweat glands, instead they recreate a thick, red substance known as ‘blood sweat’. This is a natural form of sun protection, and helps prevent the animal from getting burnt by the harsh African sun.