Paintball for Hippos

15 January 2011

The first thing that came to mind, seeing this male hippo standing grumpily in the river was that he is not a very good paintball player. Loser! The hippo with the red paint balls definitely wins that one, hands down. Four-toed huge feet down, rather.

Poor guy actually did get in a fight, or should we say lucky guy. Can't say for sure but it looks like he lost the fight, since his flanks took the brunt of the attack, meaning he tried to run away while his opponent kept slashing at him. Even young and female hippos have scarred backs because hippo society can be a rough place to fit into at times, but they seem to recover well in most cases. This one's wounds seem quite superficial, actually. Sometimes they kill each other.

We've somehow managed to nearly complete a season in Katavi National Park without writing a single sentence about hippo activity (except for the one that was killed by lions in our mess tent), and that just wouldn't be right. Katavi is known for hippos as much as anything else. Maybe that's why we've been writing about anything but, because really, there is so much more in Katavi and hippos have been stealing center stage for too long, but...just couldn't do it. Had to do a hippo story. After all, they have provided us with some of our best sightings of the year, albeit mostly in their deaths.

Hyenas eating hippos, crocs eating hippos, lions eating hippos, vultures eating hippos. They must be very tasty. But they are also tough, these Katavi hippos. I believe that if we lifted a fat and happy hippo out of Lake Tanganyika and plopped him into Katavi, he wouldn't survive a month (no offense, Steve and Kiri, I'm sure your hippos are tough too). But here, despite the near drought conditions they experience for almost three months every year, their number one killer is still each other. The one being eaten by crocs was killed fighting another hippo.

Males especially like to find a personal mud hole, then defend it, kind of like ladies fighting over time slots at the spa.

Katavi hippos are tough, as I said. They take the full strength of the sun on their backs, a feat which would kill other hippos in a week. They walk for miles every night eating dried leaves and...more dried leaves. They "petition" for a slot in the mud bog among hundreds of packed, mud-caked, parched bodies, often fighting viciously, sometimes to the death. Even when the rains finally fall and the river flows full again, their fighting just intensifies because they have renewed energy and territories to re-establish and ladies to impress and genes to pass on.

Have a look at the kind of mouth it takes to do what was done to the big hippos above.

Hippos are also capable of tenderness, snuggling, case you were beginning to think they are all about violence and strife.

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