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The shy but lethal Hippopotamus

By Vision Reporter

Added 17th November 2014 03:30 PM

In some ways, the hippopotamus is similar to a shy tortoise, living in its own world although for the former, that is mostly in the freshwaters in which it plunges.

In some ways, the hippopotamus is similar to a shy tortoise, living in its own world although for the former, that is mostly in the freshwaters in which it plunges.

trueBy David Muwonge

In some ways, the hippopotamus is similar to a shy tortoise, living in its own world although for the former, that is mostly in the freshwaters in which it plunges.

Hippopotamuses have been known to submerge in water for five to twelve minutes breathing.  Another fact about this humble aquatic giant is that they move to shallow waters when temperatures hit highs of 18 degrees Celsius plus.
   
While on the water banks, these mammals do excrete a natural lubricant to hold off the apparent danger from the sun. This natural sunscreen, red in colour, looks like oozing blood from afar.

For a long time, it was mistaken for a mixture of blood and sweat, earning it the nickname “blood sweat.” This fluid is a combination of hipposudoric acid and norhipposudoric acid both of which create a sunscreen effect by absorbing ultra violet rays from the sun and prevent the growth of disease causing bacteria.

The hippopotamus is mostly found in eastern, central and southern sub-Saharan Africa, and this mammal is one of only two extant species in the family Hippopotamidae. Interestingly, its name is Greek for "river horse". After the elephant and rhinoceros, the hippopotamus is the third-largest weighing in between, 2,268 to 3,629kg. It boasts of being the heaviest existing land and even-toed mammal.

This herbivore’s love for freshwater disproves its shy trait and is more, a show of dominance. For every herd, there is an alpha male hippopotamus. Every evening, this male leaves the waters to graze, returning only upon hearing wheezing and honking from the rest of its herd.

The herd normally leaves the water at dusk. Hippos are mostly nocturnal spending the better part of their day in a deep slumber. Herds have been known to mark their territory afraid that if they left their waters unattended to, another herd of hippos or animals might invade and capture their territory. This leaving in shifts is a similar trait in bats, which are also known to make scheduled flights out of their habitation caves. 

Hippos feed mostly on grass, shoots and leaves and their incisor and canine teeth, often referred to as tusks come in handy. The tusks found in the lower jaw, weigh up to four kilograms each.

With the hippopotamus able to stretch its mouth open to 150 degrees, one is able to observe the 50 cm and 40 cm long canines and incisors simultaneously. The hippopotamus yawn is more than just a sign of discomfort. In fact it is used to fight off predators.

Despite its calm and collected character, the hippo can be equally dangerous once disturbed. This four-footed mammal has been known to clock a record speed of 30kmph on ground.

With the world’s fastest man at current, Usain Bolt averaging 23.35 mph, it is unsafe to have a hippopotamus on a human’s trail. Game rangers, however, advise that while running away from a hippo, one should sprint in a zigzag format, as most wild animals are not known to take abrupt sharp turns with ease.

Rangers also caution against taking hippos on via short distances because they can easily catch up with humans. Their lethal attributes are well documented. The African Wildlife Foundation reports annual losses of 3000 people killed by hippos every year.

Hippos are, however, under threat from disease and predators. In 2010, 83 hippopotamuses were registered dead in Queen Elizabeth National Park from anthrax.

That said, humans are also a predator, hunting it down for its valued fatty meat considered a delicacy in most park communities.

Poachers also love its tusk-like canine known to contain ivory, a much sought after treasure in the same league as rhinoceros and elephant horns and tusks, respectively.

With the demand for decorative art and jewellery and the market price for rhino horns having surpassed the price of gold, the worry is decreasing rhino populations may affect hippos once poachers target hippo tusks aggressively. Backing on the fact that Uganda is one of the main transit countries of the illicit trade.

Rhinos in Uganda were almost hunted into extinction in the 1970s, and now only existing in sanctuaries.

“There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country,” Theodore Roosevelt stated.
 

The writer works at Uganda Media Centre

 

The shy but lethal Hippopotamus

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