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I am working on a travel book about African safaris and will be posting a few more entries to our Safari Series as a consequence. For now, here's our encounter with the hippopotami.
THE HIPPOPOTAMUS IS one of Africa’s most feared animals. Weighing in at close to 3,000 pounds, it has an aggressive and unpredictable temperament. They are also, despite their weight and short legs, able to run at speeds up to 19 miles per hour over short distances.
For us, however, they had been an elusive background creature with our only sightings being from a distance around the marshes in Amboseli National Park. So, we were excited when we learned, on our arrival, that a pod of hippos lived in the river just behind Lion Camp.
Unfortunately, our raised expectations went unfulfilled for the first couple of days. Then our proximity was confirmed on an after-dinner game drive when our spotter’s searchlight found several grazing in the grass not far from camp. (Safari Series: African Night.)
We stayed a respectful distance away. They are at their most unpredictable and dangerous when they are out of the water. A good way to get trampled is to get between them and the water.
On our third day in camp, we stopped mid-morning above a river for breakfast. The embankment on our side was steep, more than eight feet, and sheer, falling straight down to the river. Upstream, the river widened, and the embankments were more modest. Standing on shore there were two hippos grazing in the grass.
We could hear the rest of the pod in the water beneath our picnic spot before we could see them. As we set up breakfast, we would hear their snorts as the came to the surface and exhaled.
To see the pod, we had to walk close to the edge of the embankment and look down. There in the water were more than a dozen hippos gathered loosely together. Further downstream an enormous crocodile was napping on shore.
Some of the hippos were wading with their heads just above the surface - eyes, ears and nostrils visible but nothing else. Others were underwater until they surfaced and exhaled through their noses.
For some quirky reason, the sight brought back to mind an old novelty Christmas song from 1953 about a girl who wants a hippopotamus. Performed by Gayla Peevey, the lyrics included this stanza:
I want a hippopotamus for Christmas
Only a hippopotamus will do
No crocodiles, no rhinoceroses
I only likes hippopotamuses
And hippopotamuses like me, too
But then this moment was quickly dashed. Our spotter walked to the edge of the embankment and kicked a clod of dirt down to the river.
The resulting splash woke the hippos from their drowsy repose and set them in a rage. All eyes turned to the disturbance and we could feel their aggression as they rushed at the embankment.
This is not part of the aggression. It occurred later and is just a yawn by one of the bigger hippos. For a mostly herbivorous creature, those are some serious incisors. The stare below is what we received for several minutes after we rudely interrupted their peaceful river.
You might think of the hippopotamus as the Rodney Dangerfield of Africa’s big animals. Rodney was an American comedian who made a living telling jokes about how he never got respect.
Hippos could claim that disrespect as well. Despite their size and ferocity, the hippo fails to make the short list, or Big 5, of African game. That honor is reserved for the elephant, cape buffalo, rhinoceros, lion and leopard. After their reaction to the dirt clod, I would vote to expand the Big 5 to a Big 6 and let the hippo in.
After our breakfast, we left the hippos and headed on. What I remembered most were their red eyes peering in our direction. I was glad for the experience and for having an steep embankment next to our picnic site.
All photos and text are copyright Clinton Richardson. The images are from the author's Safari Collection at Trekpic.com. If you like these posts, please tell your friends about the Venture Moola blog at Readjanus.com. Want to plan your own safari? If so, feel free to check out the outfitter we used at Porini.com.
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The venture moola blog comes to you from Atlanta, Georgia. Find it at readjanus.com. Copyright Clinton Richardson.
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