The name hippo means "river horse",
and these mammals spend most of their
time in the water. They have inflated-looking bodies
that resemble barrels, supported on short,
pillarlike legs with four toes ending in
hooflike nails. The tail is short and
bristled, with flattened sides. The
belly is carried only a few inches
above the ground. The eyes are raised
on top of a flat head, the ears are
small, and the nostrils are slits high
up on the muzzle and can be closed
when the animal is submerged. The
two species, H. amphibius and C.
liberiensis (pygmy hippo)
differ greatly in size, with the former
up to 5.5 feet high and weighing seven
thousand to ten thousand pounds.
The pygmy hippo is much
smaller, with an average height of 2.5
to 3 feet, and weighing 350 to 600
Hippoes must submerge frequently because their naked skin is vulnerable to overheating and dehydration. They can stay submerged up to thirty minutes. Their skin has a brown to gray-purple coloration with pinkish creases. The pygmyhippo is black-brownto purple in color with the cheeks often tinted pink. Unlike the pygmy hippo, which is a solitary mammal dwelling in rivers and forests, H. amphibius is a huge animal that can be found in herds of up to eighty members. Seeking food, H. amphibius travels at night from the rivers for grazing, but will return before dawn to spend the day digesting and socializing in the riverbeds. During the forays fromthe water, the animals typically travel two to three miles. H. amphibius eats up to ninety pounds of grass on a nightly basis, often mowing twenty-inch-wide swaths with its muscular lips and mouth. The pygmy hippo prefers to seek food on high, dry ground and is most active between 6 p.m. and midnight. They have home ranges that may cover between one hundred and four hundred acres. Most movements are along established paths in theirhomerange, and rarely do they cross paths with others of their own species. During these forays, they seek water plants, grasses, fallen fruits and leaves. For H. amphibius, their watery homelands are partitioned into individual mating territories by mature bulls that defend defined sections. These territories can remain fixed for years. Dung showering is used to mark territories and express dominance. Other behaviors that signal threats can include water scooping, head shaking, grunting, roaring, explosive exhaling, and charging. Submission is signaled by turning tail, approaching in a crouched position, lying prone on the land, or diving and swimming away from the dominant male.
Herds usually breed between ten to fifteen hippoes. Nonbreeding males are tolerated in the territories if they do not bother the cows. Cows and calves associate in nursery herds and establish calf crГЁches, which serve as protection against predation from crocodiles, lions, and hyenas. Mating takes place during the dry season while the animals are in the water. After the birth of a calf, either on land or in the water, the cow remains with the calf for about a month before returning to the herd. Baby hippoes are able to nurse underwater until they are weaned, at around eight months of age. During mating season, the solitary pygmy hippo seeks out a receptive female who tolerates the male's presence when in heat. One to four copulations may take place over a period of two days on both land and in the water. The young are born on land or in the water and remain concealed for three to four weeks. The main predator for the pygmy hippo is the leopard. The pygmy hippoes are considered to be in jeopardy for survival because of hunting and destruction of habitat by logging.
Genus and species: Hippo amphibius (hippo), Choeropsis liberiensis (pygmy hippo) Geographical location: Although once numerous in the rivers throughout Africa, H. amphibius can now be found only south of Khartoum and north of the Zambezi River; the pygmy hippo is found in West African lowland rain forests
Habitat: Hippoes live in short grasslands, rivers, and lakes; pygmy hippoes live in lowland forests and swamps
Gestational period: Eight months for hippoes, seven months for pygmy hippoes
Life span:Upto forty-two years in the wild, past fifty in captivity Special anatomy: The genera differ greatly in size, but both have a broad snout, a very large mouth, a short round body, and short stocky legs; the smooth, hairless skin is covered with special pores that secrete a pinkish substance known as blood sweat, which is protective when in the water or dry land; large canine teeth enlarge into tusks that grow continually; the stomach is three-chambered but is nonruminating; hippoes appear to have good eyesight, hearing, and smell
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