A baby hippo, almost smaller than its mother’s head, is playing adorably in the water alongside its mother. This adorable creature, born after a gestation period of about 240 days, represents the continuation of a species known for its size and surprising agility in water.
Often perceived as solitary and aggressive mammals, Hippos exhibit a tender side in their maternal bonds. Having given birth underwater during the wettest time of the year, the mother hippo nurtures her calf with profound care. The calf, born with hind legs first, finds refuge and sustenance in the water, often resting on its mother’s back and suckling underwater.
The weaning begins when the calf is between six and eight months old, marking the gradual transition to independence. However, the bond between mother and calf remains strong, often lasting until the calf reaches the age of seven or eight, close to the age of sexual maturity.
The Early Life of a Hippo Calf
Despite their colossal adult size, baby hippos are born weighing only about 50 to 100 pounds. Thanks to their mother’s nutrient-rich milk, they grow rapidly and start consuming solid food like grass as they mature. Interestingly, baby hippos, including the pygmy species, cannot swim at birth. They use their legs to push off the bottom of the water body, giving the illusion of swimming.
Adaptations for Aquatic Life
The hippo’s life in water is fascinating. They spend up to 16 hours daily submerged, an adaptation aided by their ability to close their nostrils and ears underwater. This semi-aquatic lifestyle is crucial for maintaining their sensitive skin, protected by a unique secretion known as “blood sweat,” which acts as sunscreen and antibiotic.
In the wild, hippos face threats from predators like crocodiles, lions, and hyenas, especially during the vulnerable early days of a calf. However, the mother hippo’s protective nature often ensures her offspring’s safety.
Observing these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat, such as the waters of Kruger National Park, offers a glimpse into the complex and enriching lives of one of Africa’s most iconic species. The playful interactions between a mother hippo and her calf remind us of the enduring bonds in the animal kingdom.
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