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Bertie, the resident hippo at Makanyi Private Game Lodge, gives his rather strange smile ©Warren Jacobs

A BAD REPUTATION

Hippos are often considered to be aggressive and dangerous, and have been given the reputation of killing more humans in Africa than any other mammal. However, they're not quite the violent creatures that they're made out to be, and their reputation is not wholly fair.

   Often it is the case that where there is water, there are people who rely on this important life source. And as hippos spend at least 14 hours of the day in water, this means that there is a lot more opportunity for humans to run into hippos rather than other predators.

    The hippo does try to remain unobtrusive, especially as adults tend to prefer to sleep when the sun's up so that they can digest the 45 kilogrammes of fodder that they consume during the night. Hippos leave the water at dusk to graze and, in times of low rainfall, they move further from their water habitat in order to feed, before returning to their normal pools approximately an hour before dawn. But it is during these nightly forages that people, such as early rising fishermen, may bump into hippos, and this is what can lead to problems.

   A hippo has 36 teeth in its cavernous jaw, and the two lower canines in an adult bull can reach up to a metre when measured from inside the gum to the tip. If a hippo attacks a human when disturbed, it will bite twice at the most and then move off. But the problem is that a hippo’s bite can prove fatal, even if they do not necessarily mean it to be so.

   Hippos are considered to be herbivores, although they have been known to eat meat on occasion. So when they do kill a human, they do not feed on the body. It is, therefore, feasible that hippos have an onerous reputation because they leave evidence, or survivors to tell the tale.