Hippos | Hippopotamidae
Hippos | Hippopotamidae
Hippos, belonging to the Hippopotamidae family, are large, semi-aquatic mammals indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa. Comprising two species: the common hippo and the smaller pygmy hippo, they primarily inhabit freshwater rivers, lakes, and swamps. With barrel-shaped bodies, short legs, and massive jaws, they're uniquely adapted to aquatic life, spending daylight hours submerged to stay cool and protect their skin. At dusk, they venture onto land, grazing on grass. Evolving around 55 million years ago in Asia, ancestors of today's hippos migrated to Africa. Ancient Egyptians revered hippos, associating them with the deity Taweret, while also recognizing their potential danger. These ancient behemoths inspire awe and respect.
Hippos, robust mammals of the Hippopotamidae family, possess stout, barrel-shaped bodies supported by short, sturdy legs, adept for both aquatic and terrestrial movement. Their massive heads house large, powerful jaws with elongated canine teeth, which can grow up to 20 inches. Adapted to their semi-aquatic lifestyle, their eyes, ears, and nostrils sit high on their head, allowing them to observe surroundings while mostly submerged. A thick, nearly hairless skin secretes a reddish fluid, often mistaken for blood, providing sun and infection protection. Their vocalizations range from grunts to loud bellows. While not renowned for speed, they're agile, especially when threatened, making them deceptively quick for their size.
Humans have a complex relationship with hippos. Historically revered in cultures like ancient Egypt, they've also been feared for their unpredictability and territorial nature, making them one of Africa's most dangerous animals. In pop culture, hippos are often depicted with a gentler demeanor, as seen in "Fantasia's" dancing hippos or the popular Christmas song, "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas."
However, human encroachment on their habitats, coupled with hunting for meat and ivory tusks, threatens their populations. Conservation efforts focus on habitat preservation and anti-poaching initiatives. Educating local communities on coexistence is vital to ensure the safety of both humans and these majestic creatures.
It is funny how the hippo rarely appears in folklore and movies among scary animals, even with its bad rap of goring humans, overturning boats, and stomping out other animals. It is not only humans that are afraid of an adult hippo but even crocodiles. The hippo’s immense weight, tusk, aggressiveness, and unpredictable behavior make it unapproachable.
For an adult hippo, it is only five minutes that it can remain submerged without air and for a baby hippo, the maximum it can do is one minute. However, you will mostly see hippos in shallow areas in a lake or river where they can breathe freely. Besides, their large bodies enable them to walk on river beds, hence no need to hold their breath.
The goddess Taweret, whom the Egyptians believed to be the holder of fertility and rejuvenation, is portrayed as a hippo. Her head is that of a hippo, face and tail crocodile, limbs feline, and the hair is human. Her fierceness is represented as that of a mother protecting her young from harm, a character the hippo also possesses.