Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)
Despite the Hippo's massive size, this amphibious mammal can move underwater with grace, and runs on land with surprising speed, over 25 mph in a short dash.
An adult male can weigh almost 4 tons and the female about 1/3 lighter. It can stand about 5 feet at the shoulder and reach a length of over 14 feet. Their life span is about 40 years.
Indeed, the name Hippopotamus means ‘river horse’, pertaining to this species’ semi-aquatic lifestyle. An extremely large animal with a round, barrel-shaped body, short legs and a large, broad head. The body is a grayish to muddy-brown color on top and a pale pink color underneath. The broad mouth can be opened extremely wide to expose large, curved canines, used in aggressive displays. The eyes, ears and nostrils protrude on the top of the head, allowing the animal to remain receptive to its surroundings and breathe while otherwise almost totally submerged underwater. |
The Hippopotamus’ virtually hairless skin is moistened by a secreted pink, oily substance that protects the skin from sunburn and drying, and perhaps infection. Although not strictly nocturnal, Hippos generally forage for food at night, and spend the day digesting their food, sleeping and socializing. Diet mainly consists of grass, although isolated incidence of scavenging on carcasses has been reported. On land, Hippos disperse individually to forage, with the exception of mothers and dependent offspring.
The principle threats to the Hippos are loss of essential grazing lands to cultivation and encroaching human settlement and unregulated or illegal hunting. Due to increased development and human population growth, these large animals have also run into frequent conflict with humans, and have been said to kill many people in Africa, attacking when feeling threatened. The species is a notorious crop-raider and can cause extensive damage through grazing and trampling. In certain countries, farmers can file complaints against Hippopotamuses for crop damage, after which officials can legally kill the offending animals. Unregulated or illegal hunting is also a significant threat, with this enormous animal being prized by hunters for its meat, skins and ivory. The ban on international trade in elephant ivory has led to the increased exploitation of the carvable canine teeth of hippopotamuses, which can measure upward of almost 2 feet in length and are not subject to the same import/export restrictions.
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