There are two varieties of hippos, the water hippo and the pygmy hippo. But don't let the name fool you; the pygmy hippo, while smaller than his much larger cousin, is still too big to live in your bathtub or swimming pool, so don't ask for a hippopotamus for Christmas.
All About Hippos
Hippopotamuses got their name from the Greek words for water horse. Though more closely related to whales, manatees and dolphins than horses, the hippo doesn't swim. He sort of gallops along the bottom of the river, where he spends most of his time. Both pygmy hippos and common hippos are found in Africa and are considered vulnerable because of habitat loss. In fact, at the time of publication there are only about 3,000 pygmy hippos and less than 200,000 common hippos left.
Hippos are not good prey because of their imposing size. However, intrepid lions, crocodiles and hyenas will try to bring down the weaker, or younger, of the herd. One of the common hippo defenses is to stay together in a herd, which makes for an imposing challenge to predators. Another is to get into deep water where they seem to feel safer. Human beings are the biggest predator of hippos, killing them for both their meat and their teeth, which are made of ivory. Laws to protect elephants are not helpful for the hippos; the ban on elephant tusks has caused a tragic and substantial increase in the number of hippos killed for their teeth.
Aside from their enormity and tendency to hang out in a big group, hippos have a few other defense mechanisms at the ready if they truly feel threatened. They are quick to anger and show their gigantic teeth in an impressive display of aggression. The hippo mouth can open very wide and their teeth can weigh over 6.5 pounds each. Mother hippos with calves are especially dangerous to humans and other animals. Despite their lumbering appearance, on land they can run a startling 30 miles per hour. They will charge and won't hesitate to inflict deadly bites if necessary.
Dangers to Humans
Hippopotamuses are among the most dangerous animals on earth because they are known to charge humans when threatened. Unfortunately, since their habitat is mostly gone, they are forced to forage among crops, which in turn causes them to come face to face with angry farmers. It is during these interactions with humans, as well as unwary fishermen, that hippos and humans come together, a situation that will almost always end in death. Despite its speed, size and aggression, the hippo is no match for a human with a powerful gun, so it's usually the hippopotamus that loses her life.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.