The hippopotamus is one of the continent’s largest land mammals, after elephants and white rhinos.

Hippopotamuses love water, which is why they can most often be spotted with their massive bodies submerged underwater. The closing living relatives to hippos are whales and porpoises. 

If you love learning about Africa’s animals, read more interesting facts about cheetahs, leopards, buffalo and hyenas to name a few.  

To give you a greater understanding of these massive herbivores, we’ve compiled a list of interesting hippo facts. 

Interesting Hippo Facts

River horses

Derived from an ancient Greek word which means “river horse”, hippos are semi-aquatic animals, most commonly spotted with its enormous body submerged under rivers and lakes. 

Hippos can’t swim 

Hippos spend most of their lives in water, but they actually cannot swim. Hippos sink in the water. Instead of swimming, they run along the river bottom. The main reason they spend time in the water is to protect their sensitive skin from the sun. 

Natural sunblock

The hippo’s skin is hairless and very thick. They secrete an oily red substance from their skin which gives rise to the myth that these animals sweat blood. The shiny liquid moistens the skin and contains chemicals that disinfect their wounds, prevent dehydration and act as a natural sunblock. 


These large mammals spend up to 16 hours a day submerged underwater or covered in mud. Hippos can hold their breath underwater for long periods and prefer to walk on the river bed, rather than swim. Hippo calves have an incredible ability to suckle underwater by closing their ears and nostrils so that water doesn’t get into them. 


The hippo is known as one of the most aggressive creatures on earth. Apart from mosquitoes, hippos are the animals responsible for the most human deaths in Africa. These highly aggressive creatures use their canine teeth and massive jaws for fighting.

Hippos are territorial when they are in the water and will open their mouths to “yawn” as a warning sign to not come any closer.


These herbivores exit and enter the water at the same spot and travel overland to graze at dusk. The school will travel up to 10 kilometres in single file until they’ve eaten their fill. On average, a hippopotamus can consume 68kg of grass each night. 


Another interesting hippo facts is that hippos weigh between 2,000 and 3,500 kilograms. Despite their size, these animals are agile and can easily outrun most humans. If hippos are threatened on land, they will run for the water and can reach speeds of up to 30km/h in short distances.


For hippos, reproduction and birth occur in the water. Therefore, hippos are territorial and protective of their young while in the water. Each female has one calf every two years.

Soon after birth, mother and calves join schools that provide protection from lions, hyenas and crocodiles. Dominant male hippos protect their schools of between 10 and 40 other hippos. 


Hippos are classified as vulnerable on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). They’ve been poached for their meat and ivory-like teeth. As well as being killed in areas where they damage agriculture and pose a threat to human settlement.

If you are interested in learning about animal conservation in Africa, read our post on The 5 Most Endangered Animals in Africa

We hope you enjoyed reading this post on hippo facts. If you would like to view these fascinating animals in the wild, book a safari in Africa with us

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