Best Places to See Hippos

Do you want to find out, what the best places to see Hippos in the wild are? Have a look at this article on the best locations for Hippo safaris and adventures. 

They are huge vegans with dangerous fighting teeth and show off with the size of their excrement heaps. Hippos produce their own sunscreen and their jaws have the force of a sledgehammer.

hippo tooth

But what are the best places to see Hippos in africa or around the world?

In this article, you learn about where the best places to see Hippos (hippopotamuses) are, what they are like and how to get there. You can read the whole article from the beginning or jump straight to the most relevant chapter for you:

Get to know Hippos

The name hippopotamus (hippo = horse, potamus = river) is misleading, as the hippo is related to pigs rather than horses. 

hippo in the water

The name “hippopotamus” can be traced back to the first specimens discovered on the Nile, but it is misleading because hippopotamuses have a much larger distribution area and, moreover, are completely extinct on the Nile today. The populations have declined sharply due to hunting.

The family of the hippopotamuses (Hippopotamidae) consists of two genera with only one species each: The hippopotamus (large hippopotamus) and the pygmy hippopotamus. 

Both species differ significantly in size, weight and preferred habitat. With a body length of 3.50 metres and a weight of more than three tons, the large hippopotamus is considerably more massive than the pygmy hippopotamus, which is a maximum of 1.75 metres tall and weighs a maximum of 280 kilograms. 

Characteristic of both hippopotamuses is the large mouth with large canine and incisor teeth in the upper and lower jaws.

Hippos are predominantly nocturnal. During the day they stay in the water and at night they migrate to their grazing grounds on land. The life of the large hippos can be described as sociable but solitary. 

Dominant males live in territories, but tolerate other bulls. The females gather in groups every morning at the watering places, but this behaviour has no social purpose. They migrate to the grazing grounds alone, at most with their offspring. 

In contrast to this, pygmy hippos are definitely loners. They only come together for mating or in mother-child communities. The large and pygmy hippos usually mate in water. The gestation period of the massive animals is with eight months for the large hippo and about seven months for the pygmy hippo quite short. The females usually give birth to only one young in the water, rarely on land. More to this later on the the best places to see Hippos.

Hippopotami are amphibian mammals that spend most of their days in or near water. Nostrils, eyes and ears are high and are the only ones that look out of the water.

Are Hippos vegetarian/ Herbivores?

Yes. Like most herbivores, hippos consume other plants if presented with them, but their diet in nature consists almost entirely of grass.

How much do hippos eat?

Hippos graze most of the night on land. They eat about 50 kilograms of grass per night.

The skin is very rich in glands, which secrete fluid that acts both as a sunscreen and antibiotic against pathogens. This liquid is colourless, but turns reddish after a few minutes and later turns brownish.

Hippos tend to walk under water rather than swim. They can stay under water for five to eight minutes. Birth is also usually under water, as young animals can swim immediately. It is a great picture to see Hippos underwater.

The bulls mark their territory by hurling the excrement with their tail when they leave the water. Hippos live in schools of up to 20 animals in fixed territories. They are considered to be very well-fortified. The bulls’ canines can grow up to half a meter long. Especially cows with calves often defend them against larger predators.

How fast are hippos?

Although they are very massive, hippos can reach speeds of up to 50 kilometres per hour.

Are you a fan of the african continent? Have a look on the top 10 African Safari Parks in Africa were we collected everything about the most famous parks in africa. 

Endangerment of Hippos

The hippopotamus belongs to the list of “vulnerable” animals on the World Conservation Union IUCN classified, especially after its population in the Congo has decreased by 95 percent. The animal is hunted for its ivory teeth and meat. In 1994, the Congo had the second largest population of 30 000 animals after Zambia (40 000). These figures have now fallen dramatically, writes the IUCN.

Hippo Red List

There are some countries like Zambia, who blow for hippo hunting. According to government plans, wealthy big game hunters are allowed to kill 2,000 animals. The hippopotamus population is too large, is the flimsy explanation. In reality, it’s probably all about money. 

For example, the government does not provide scientific evidence of alleged overpopulation. One study even proves that such killing actions are not suitable to regulate the number of hippos. It is not convincing to contain or prevent anthrax by culling healthy animals.

Obviously the government is concerned about something else: foreign hunters are supposed to bring money into the country. This is damaging Zambia’s reputation with other tourists who want to enjoy the beauty of the country and its animals.

The action is particularly irresponsible in view of the fact that hippos are on the Red List and are considered “vulnerable”.

How many hippos are left in the world?

It is estimated that only 130,000 specimens live in freedom, which limits the best places to see Hippos.

Where do Hippos live?

Hippos are today only widespread in Africa south of the Sahara. They are rare in western Africa and the population is divided into a number of smaller groups, which together comprise around 130,000 animals in 19 countries. 

hippo family

Because of the fragmented populations, the species is most threatened in western Africa. Overall, the wild Hippopotamus is considered an endangered species. In eastern Africa they were relatively numerous until recently, with around 30,000 in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo and tens of thousands in Ethiopia, Sudan and Tanzania. 

In addition, there were several thousand hippos in Kenya and Uganda, so that in eastern Africa there were about 70,000 of these animals.

In southern Africa, the total population was around 80,000, most of them living in Zambia, which had the highest number of all countries with around 40,000 individuals. 

Larger populations were also found in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. (Which are still some of the best places to see Hippos. ) In South Africa, they are restricted to the north-eastern part of the country – mainly the Kruger National Park Regionally, they are extinct in central and southern Africa, for example in most of South Africa and in Mauritania. 

In the southern Sahara, too, they lived until about 2000 years ago in the lakes that still existed there at that time.

Until the beginning of the 19th century, hippos also inhabited the Nile valley and the Nile delta in Egypt. Also the Jordan Valley used to be part of their distribution area. Near the Atlas Mountains in northwestern Africa they were found until about 3500 years ago.

During the Eemian warm period about 120,000 years ago, hippos were also common along the rivers Rhine and Thames, as bone finds prove.

The only free-living hippopotamus population outside Africa has existed in Latin America since the 1990s in the catchment area of the Colombian Río Magdalena. 

Four animals had been introduced ten years earlier as neozoa by Pablo Escobar. Initially, they lived in the private zoo of the drug dealer, who had the manure pr oduced used to conceal the smuggled cocaine. 

After Escobar’s death in 1993, the care of the zoo was discontinued, and the animals spread into adjacent waters. In 2018 between 40 and 60 individuals lived there, by the end of 2019 a population of about 80 animals is expected, whose reproduction prognosis is exponential.

Hippo Attacks on Humans/ Are hippos dangerous?

Hippopotami, are considered the most dangerous animal species of all in Africa . It is repeatedly claimed that hippos are the most dangerous large animals in Africa and that they cause more deaths than crocodiles or big cats. The hippos seem harmless and ponderous when they lie calmly in the water with their bodies weighing several tons. 

hippos in africa
hippos in africa

But they are easily excitable: For example, if a boat gets too close, they can attack surprisingly aggressively and effectively thanks to their sharp canines. It is said that the animals kill about 100 people every year. Hippos cause more deaths than crocodiles or big cats. However, there are no statistics on this.

Adult hippos have hardly any natural enemies; young animals occasionally fall victim to crocodiles, lions, hyenas or leopards. Females sometimes join together to defend their young. They can become extremely aggressive. Larger herds of lions can also become a threat to adult hippos outside the water. So do not go to close to see a Hippo!

The social behaviour of hippos is variable. They can live alone or in groups, but the only lasting relationship is between the mother and her offspring. Groups can contain up to 150 animals, but the usual herd size is 10 to 15. These herds usually consist of females and young animals. More rarely, males without a territory of their own join together in bachelor groups, but they usually live solitary lives.

Dominant males try to establish their own territory in which there are several females capable of reproduction. These territories include 250 to 500 metres of lakeshores and 50 to 100 metres of riverbanks. Sometimes subordinate males are tolerated in this territory, provided they acknowledge the reproductive prerogative of the dominant male. The boundaries of the territory are marked by defecation, often resulting in larger dung heaps.

Males in neighbouring territories usually behave peacefully with each other. Ritualized actions during encounters include hurling their head out of the water or staring at each other from a short distance. The swirling apart of the droppings by rapidly circling tail movements, which is carried out in the water and on land, is also assigned more a signal function and less a territory indicating function. When they feel threatened, male hippos show their large incisors and canines with their mouth wide open.

A defender of a district tries to drive away intruders with showing off. If this does not succeed, it can come to violent arguments, which are carried out above all with the lower cuspids. Many older males have scars from these fights, also the death of an opponent is not unusual.

Are you an underwater enthusiast? Check out our posts about Great White Shark Diving, Whale Shark Diving, Tiger Shark, Bull Shark or Blue Shark Diving.

Best places to see Hippos

There are many places in africa where you can see hippos in their natural environment, we collected a list of the best places to see Hippos.

Admittedly, St. Lucia is not a place worth seeing. There is only one big main street with shops and a few restaurants. The countless guesthouses have all settled in smaller streets around it.

The only access to the place is a bridge that connects the “island” St. Lucia with the mainland. But the place offers a speciality.

 In addition to the human inhabitants, it is also home to over 800 hippos, which have made themselves at home in the waters of the St. Lucia Wetlands.

Key statistics to see Hippos in St. Lucia  – iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa

Best Time to visit St. LuciaAll year round
Temperature18 – 29°C  
AreaMostly wetlands
Chance to encounterHipposHigher than 99%

But if you think you can only observe the pachyderms in water, you will be disabused. 

Hippos at night
Hippos at night

Already on the road to St. Lucia as well as in the village there are signs pointing to the animal inhabitants. 

By the way, St. Lucia is not only ideal for observing hippos.

From there you can also make wonderful excursions through the iSimangaliso Wetland Park to Cape Vidal or go on a day safari in the Hluhluwe National Park.

Best tour operators to see Hippos

There are many tour operators that offer Hippos viewing in africa. We collected some of the best companies to the best places to see Hippos.

Summary

In summary, there are some amazing places to see hippos in the wild. It doesn’t matter where you decide to go, always be cautious and be aware of not getting to close to any hippo. 

They may look very cute and harmless – but are fierce protectors of their families and habitat. 

We totally recommend places like St. Lucia to see hippos, because they are less touristy and there is a lot to discover. 

Now you could take a look at the best friends of Hippos, the rhino! Follow us the a complete guide about where to See Rhinos in the Wild.

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