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Hippo sticking head out of water in South Africa

Environment & Wildlife, General, World Trends

Celebrating World Hippo Day 2024

February 14th 2024

As we celebrate World Hippo Day in 2024, we honour these magnificent creatures that often dwell beneath the surface, embodying a mysterious elegance. On this special day, let us delve into the fascinating world of hippos, recognising their crucial role in maintaining aquatic ecosystems and the unique challenges they face in the wild. From their impressive size to their unexpected ability, hippos captivate our imagination and serve as a reminder of the awe-inspiring wonders of the animal kingdom. Join us in appreciating and advocating for the conservation of these extraordinary beings on World Hippo Day, as we strive to ensure their continued presence in our global biodiversity sphere.

The name hippopotamus actually means ‘river horse.’ There are two species of hippopotamus. The common river hippo and the much smaller pygmy hippo. Hippos typically live for 45 years and despite looking a little chubby can easily outrun a human! Moreover, despite being primarily based in bodies of water, hippos can’t swim. However, due to the fact they cannot sweat this is the main reason they are in the water so much. Although it is not the brightest idea to have a competition with how long you can hold your breath with them, as hippos can hold their breath underwater for 6 whole minutes!

Volunteering with hippo researchShamwari Game Reserve | Big Five Wildlife Volunteer | Working AbroadThe History of the Hippopotamus

The history of the hippopotamus is a fascinating journey through time, revealing the ancient origins and remarkable evolution of their charismatic creature. Belonging to the family Hippopotamidae, hippos have traversed the epochs, leaving their hoof-prints on the banks of Africa’s waterways for millions of years. Once distant relatives of whales and dolphins, these semi-aquatic mammals have adapted to a predominantly aquatic lifestyle, boasting a hefty frame and distinctive barrel-shaped body.

Revered in ancient Egyptian culture as symbols of fertility and protections, hippos have also faced the threat of exploitation and habitat loss in more recent times. Despite their often-placid appearance, hippos are renowned for their formidable strength and territorial nature, making them an enigmatic science. Today, as conservation efforts strive to safeguard their habitats and mitigate human-wildlife conflicts, the history of the hippopotamus serves as a testament to the ongoing importance of preserving Earth’s endangered animals.

It is important to mention that the Pygmy hippo was only discovered in 1849 however paleobiologists have unearthed evidence of hippos as far back as over one million years ago. In ancient Egypt, these great mammals were often hunted and killed as it was a sign of strength and power. However, there is evidence that hippopotami often attacked the Egyptians through evidence of medical recipes written to aid wounds inflicted by the bites of a hippo! Best not to go too close to these creatures as their bite forced measures 2000 pounds per square inch in comparison to a lion’s who’s bite force measures a measly 1000 pounds per square inch, making them the second strongest biting animal in the world after saltwater crocodiles.

Hippos in the water in South AfricaShamwari Game Reserve | Big Five Wildlife Volunteer | Working AbroadHippos are cool but why do we need to keep them around?

In recent years, hippos have faced an alarming increase in hunting and coincidently, endangerment. This poses a significant threat to their populations across various regions. Hippos are increasingly targeted for their ivory-like canine teeth and meat. Poaching, driven by the illegal wildlife trade and demand for hippo products, has intensified, leading to a rapid decline in their numbers. Moreover, habitat loss due to expanding human activities exacerbates the challenges faced by these semi-aquatic mammals.

Conservationists and wildlife organisations are tirelessly working to address their critical issue, implementing measure such as increased anti-poaching efforts, community engagement, and habitat preservation to ensure the survival of hippos in the world. More urgency is necessary in the conservation of these mammals, we all need to look after the world we live in, what better way to start than fighting for the cause of hippo survival.

But why are hippos even important? Do they seriously add value to this world?

Yes, hippos play a crucial role in maintains the ecological balance of their habitats, therefore contributing to the overall health of aquatic ecosystems. As herbivores, they graze on vegetation along riverbanks, controlling the growth of plants and ultimately preventing the overgrowth of numerous species. Their dung, rich in nutrients, serves as a natural fertiliser, enhancing soil fertility further promoting the growing of plants. Additionally, the wallowing behaviour of hippos creates depressions in riverbeds that serve as vital water sources during dry seasons for various other species. So yes, I guess you could say they do a lot…

Okay fair enough, but how can I help?

To aid in the conservation of hippos, ensuring there are plenty more World Hippo Day’s in the future, individuals can contribute through various means:

  • Supporting reputable wildlife organisations – whether this be financially or volunteering at your local wildlife centre, individuals can take time out of their everyday routine to make a significant impact in the strengthening of these beautiful entities.
  • Raising awareness – by showcasing to others about the threats faced by hippos, such as habitat loss and human-wildlife conflicts, one can garner public support for conservation efforts and collectively unite to support animals in need.
  • Adopting sustainable practices – this could be in agriculture/land in order to help mitigate habitat destruction, or this could be through promoting a harmonious coexistence with this magnificent creates through posting an Instagram story spreading awareness or donating to charity to shoe support.
  • Engaging in responsible tourism – respect hippos wildlife habitats and avoid purchasing products derived from illegal wildlife habitats ensures further steps towards fostering a positive environment for hippos.
  • Collectivism is key in these situations, by gathering friends, family or complete strangers, we can promote the survival and well-being of hippos, preserving the ecological balance of this globe.
  • Volunteer with WorkingAbroad on our projects in Africa where hippos roam at many of our projects which the continued protection of our amazing project colleagues and volunteers like you!

Written by WorkingAbroad Blogger Adele Baker

About the Author

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Blog articles about our volunteer projects, the wider world and from volunteers in the field are shared here for everyone to get inspired and learn more about wildlife conservation topics, volunteering abroad and much more.