One of my favourite African myths is that of how Hippo came to live in water. For those who do not know it, this is one of the incarnations of that story…
A very long time ago in Africa, when all the animals lived together in the bush with the Creator, most animals lived on the land, and only a very few lived in the water. The hot sun baked the earth every day, and all the animals suffered one way or another. But the animals had protection against the sun, in the form of either fur, feathers or scales. Hippo’s skin did not offer as much protection and as he grew, it stretched and got even thinner.
By the time he was an adult, his skin was so thin, that it was burned by the hot African sun. Hippo could endure it no more and he went to the Creator and asked: “Please, may I go live in the river?” The Creator said: “Yes my friend you may, but you must first ask permission from the river animals.” But the river animals were selfish and said; “No, we cannot allow this. You are so big and will eat all the fish in the river.” Hippo responded… “You do not have to worry, as I do not eat fish. I only eat grass and river plants.”
“To prove this I will open my mouth wide every day so that you all can see there are no fish bones or scales in my mouth. And I will spread my dung with my tail so that you can see there are no bones”
This convinced the river animals and they gave their permission for him to join them in the cool river water. And from that day to this, the Hippo still opens his mouth wide and spread his dung with his tail to prove that he is keeping his promise.
Are more people are killed in Africa by hippos than all of the Big 5 combined? That theory is now been questioned by experts who believe that unreported crocodile attacks may account for many of the deaths, however, this large aquatic mammal is still dangerous if encountered while out of its usual environment.
Halfway through a quiet afternoon drive, having bumbled around the reserve without much luck when it came to dangerous game sightings our guide decided to head off to two dams to see if the resident hippo were home. The hippos at the first dam were most accommodating and decided that we posed no threat to them, so they bobbed around for a while before moving out of our sight.
After some discussion between the tracker and guide, it was decided that the male hippo in the second dam could be more accommodating, and we headed off in that direction.
And he most certainly was! While we were finding a safe spot for the vehicle, the resident hippo cruised towards us with what could almost be described as a glare on his face. Whether he saw us as a threat or if he was just intent on intimidation, the display that followed was most impressive.
No sooner had we parked than he began this territorial display.
Wide-mouthed and with his head flailing from side to side, we sat in quiet awe of how an animal of this size could lift himself out of the water, going from submerged and placid to large and menacing in an instant.
Bearing in mind that full-grown males can weigh in at 1500kg and even though they might have short stubby legs, on land they can reach speeds up to 30kph, his display was exciting and impressive. What was interesting was that the hippo seemed to have drawn an invisible line in the water and his entire performance was carried out at that distance without either advancing or retreating!
Our guide had positioned the vehicle in a manner that allowed us to witness this behaviour without causing any undue stress on either the guests or the hippo. And, if the need had arisen, we would have been able to leave without any complicated manoeuvring.
And finally, I think he realized that the display was a waste of time and he, like the hippo at the first dam, submerged and reappeared at the far end of the dam.
I know that THIS is NOT a hippo! It turns out that hyenas enjoy lying in the water to cool off as this one was.
A memorable ending to what had started out being a quiet drive…
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