For more than 2 years I have been contributing back page articles to this magazine and I have also completed a couple of online courses with them.
My biggest Wildlife Campus achievement to date?
Probably the fact that I started a course with them about 20 years ago…and I have yet to complete it!
That being said, I have never missed the monthly deadline for my articles.
This article first appeared in The Wildlife Campus magazine in December 2021.
My favourite African myth is how the Hippo came to live in water.
For those who do not know it, this is one of the incarnations of that tale…
“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 strong skins to protect them against the sun, either fur, feathers or scales. Hippo’s skin was not that strong and as he grew bigger, his skin begin to stretch and become 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 looked with kindness at Hippo and 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.” “You do not have to worry, as I do not eat fish. I will only eat the grass and river plants,” said Hippo. “And to prove this every day I will open my mouth wide 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“.
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 ‘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 resident hippo in the second dam could be more accommodating, and we headed off in that direction.
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.
And he most certainly was! We had no sooner arrived and parked than he began his 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 attain 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 located the vehicle in the perfect position to witness this behaviour but without 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 expending energy on our vehicle was a waste of time and he, like the hippo at the first dam, merely submerged and eventually reappeared at the far end of the dam.
A memorable ending to what had started out as a quiet drive…
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