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Hippopotamus heading pic.jpg
Scientific Classification
Genus and Species

Genus: Hippopotamus

Genus: Choeropsis

800px-Pygmy hippopotamus pair.jpg
Pygmy Hippopotamus

The Common Hippopotamus and the Pygmy Hippopotamus are the last two species in the Hippopotamidae family. The Hippos are semi-aquatic mammals that spend most of their time in the water. In Greek, they are called "the river horse". And although they look big and lazy, Hippos are one of the most dangerous and largest animals in Africa. They can run at speeds of 30 mph, can crush a crocodile, and have killed 2900 people yearly. These large beasts may seem intimidating when the stretch out their mouth, or when they lurk the water in herds, but their population is slowly dwindling. There are only 2000 pygmy Hippos left in the world, and that number is decreasing everyday. Yet these creatures are just one of the examples of God's glory and intricate design.

Body Design

Common Hippopotamus skull
Pygmy Hippopotamus skull

The common Hippopotamus is known for its huge barrel like body, short legs, and its enormous mouth. The Hippo can grow to be 8,000 pounds and 11 feet in length, making it to be the 4th largest land animal [2]. Their weight makes it difficult for them to swim. So instead, they walk along the bottom[3]. Both the male and female have a similar body, but the male is slightly bigger in size and has longer teeth. They all have hairless grey skin that could easily be sunburned and dried up. To avoid this from happening, hippos stay in the water for most of the time. They also secrete "blood sweat" from their pores. This "blood sweat" is not actual blood, but a red thick substance that acts like a sunscreen to the skin, keeping the skin moist and sunburn free. [4]

The Hippopotamus has its ears, eyes, and nostrils positioned on top of its head. It is situated like this so that the Hippo can still breathe, see, and hear while the rest of its body is submerged underwater. [2] There is also a clear membrane that surrounds their eyes, which allows them to see underwater. Their nostrils also closes underwater to keep water out. This helps the Hippo to stay underwater longer, and they can stay underwater for 6 minutes without air[5]. A hippopotamus has a big mouth and a strong jaw. The mouth can open up to 4 feet wide[6]. They also have a pair of big incisors on each jaw. On the outer part of the jaw, they have lower canine teeth that are curved. These teeth continue to grow, and can reach the length of 3ft. The flat molars located in the back of the mouth are used to grind up the vegetation being eaten. The pygmy hippo also have long canines, but they are not as big as the common hippo's teeth. Although small, their teeth are still used to intimidate their intruders and rivals[7]. A Hippo has one of the strongest bites. Their powerful jaws have the PSI (pounds per square inch) of 1,821. The PSI is the pressure that will occur when a single force is put on one square inch of area. A domestic dog only has the bite force of 200-300 PSI.[8]

Just like the common hippo, pygmy hippos are semi-aquatic and will enter the water.The pygmy hippo is only half as tall as the hippopotamus and weighs less than 1/4 of a full sized hippopotamus. Adult pygmy hippos reach 70-80 cm in height They also have a similar body, with grey skin covering it. They are basically the miniature version of the common hippo. In relation to its body, Pygmy hippos has a smaller head and a narrower mouth. This makes it easier for them to run quickly through the forest. Compared to the common hippo, they have fewer webbed toes that help them move on land more efficiently. These hippos have their eyes positioned on the sides of their head instead of top. This makes it easier for them to see when they are amongst the trees.[9]

Life Cycle

A mother and baby Hippo
A Pygmy hippo with her calf

Male Hippos are bulls, females are cows, and a baby is considered to be a calf. The female hippo reaches sexual maturity at the age of 5-6 years, and the bull is able to mate when he reaches 7 to 8 years old. But the male cannot mate with the herd until he is the dominant bull. Hippopotamuses are also polygamous, meaning that they mate with more than one partner. The hippos breed throughout the year, but the most favorable time to mate is during the dry season. So when the babies are born, they are born during the rainy season. This is the time when food is more abundant, compared to the other seasons[10]. For male pygmy Hippopotamuses, the breeding season is the time where he becomes very aggressive, bares his teeth, and fights other males to earn the right to mate with local females. Once a male chooses a female, he would bring her out to the water where they would mate. A female Hippo's gestation period (the time the fetus develops) lasts for 8 months.[6] And a pygmy hippo's gestation period last for 6-7 months. A female can only have one calf every two years [11]

The babies are then born underwater, but it is also possible for them to be born on land. Pygmy Hippos normally give birth to their young in water, in a den, or in the dense vegetation. These common hippopotamus newborns are already 80-100lbs,3 feet long, and instinctively know how to swim to the surface. After they are born, the mother will isolate herself from the herd and stay with her babies. When 3-4 weeks pass, the mother and her babies will return to the herd.

Unlike the common Hippo, pygmy calves are born weighing only 10-14 pounds. These calves then stay with their mother until weaning. They are fully weaned at eight months old. When the mother leaves her babies to find food, they usually hide near the water. Both species of hippos live a similar life span of 40-50 years, but the pygmy hippo is also known to reach older ages than the common hippo. This is most likely when they are kept in captivity.[9]


Range of Hippopotamus. The red is the former, and the green is the present.
The range of the Pygmy Hippopotamus.

Hippopotamuses are semi-aquatic mammals, so they live in swamps, shallow lakes, and rivers. They only live in water that is deep enough for their entire body to be fully submerged. They spend 16 hours of their day in the water, and the only times they get up is at dusk when they go ashore to feed. [12]. They are native to 29 countries, and have been regionally extinct from 3 countries: Algeria, Egypt, and Mauritania. The common hippo lives exclusively in East Africa, in the south of the Sahara, while the pygmy hippo lives in very restricted areas in the west of Africa. [13]. Some of the countries that the common hippo can be found in are Botswana, Eritrea, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Kenya, Gambia, Rwanda, Chad, Mozambique, Ghana, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Sudan, Cameroon, Swaziland, Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Uganda and Togo [14]. With only 2,000 estimated pygmy hippos remaining in the wild, most are found in Liberia, with smaller numbers in of Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Ivory Coast[9]

A hippo's diet mainly consists of grasses because they are herbivores. They prefer the short grasses near the water beds. Some hippos will walk 5 miles everyday just to eat this short grass. They eat an average of 88 pounds of grass every night. In captivity (zoos), they can eat grass, hay, romaine lettuce trims, pellet feed, and even apples and carrots. Sometimes in the wild on very rare occasions, hippos could eat meat or insects. This only occurs when there is a drought, or when food is scarce [15]. And unlike their larger cousin, pygmy hippos enjoy a bigger variety of foods in their vegetarian diet such as ferns, tender roots, grasses, herbs, stems and leaves of young trees, vegetables and fallen fruit; they have also been observed to eat sweet potato leaves, okra, pepper plants, cassava and the tender shoots of young rice plants on plantations and farms at the forest edge. [16]

The common hippo only has a few predators, which are lions, alligators, and humans [17]. Pygmy Hippo also has a few predators, which are leopards, crocodiles, pythons, and humans. Humans kill them because of self defense, or hunt them for their meat and teeth. Their teeth is used as an alternative to ivory. Hippos do not hunt any specific animal because of their herbivorous diet, but they will kill. When another hippo in their herd is being threatened, or when they get aggravated, they would kill whatever is causing them trouble.[18]

Endangered Status

(EN) Endangers and (VU) Vulnurable

Today, the Pygmy Hippopotamus is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as an animal species that is endangered (EN) and is at risk of being extinct in the future. There is belief by some that they are already extinct, because no new information about them has been found. There are less than 2000 Pygmy Hippos left in the wild today, but these numbers keep declining because of the habitat loss and illegal hunting.[6]

Other factors that contribute to the endangerment of the Pygmy Hippos are deforestation and fragmentation of the forest. Illegal mining, subsistence farming, and poaching have let human predators become more accessible in the wildlife habitat. The families trying to meet their food needs have been stripping away the forest resources, making it difficult for the Hippo to find food and shelter. The Hunting of the Pygmy hippo still occurs because their meat is more tasty and palatable than bigger hippos. Although it is illegal in Liberia, the bushmeat trade in the major towns of the country continue to prosper. [19]

The conservation status of the common Hippopotamus is vulnerable (VU), meaning that their population is slowly decreasing. The estimated population is 125000-150000, but there had been a 7%-20% decrease in the past 10 years. It is likely that by 30 years, 30% of the common hippo population will be lost. There have been and are still many conservation efforts that are being done to protect these creatures. Now most of the common hippopotamuses are confined in protected areas. [16]


Video of the common hippopotamus.


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