If you don’t know by now, I work at my local zoo with a variety of different species. One of which is the hippopotamus. One of our tasks as keepers is to give chats about our animals. Basically, you stand in front of your exhibit for about ten minutes talking about your animals. We give hippo chats and it’s something I’m getting trained on. Public speaking has never been my strong suit, and doing it while being watched by a senior member of our team makes it harder for me. So, since writing has always helped me, I figured I’d write up what I’d say at a chat. Some of it might be similar to my previous post about hippos, but you might learn something new.
Good morning, everyone! My name is Nikki and if you’ll give me a few minutes, I’m going to talk about our hippos here at the zoo. We have two, female hippos. They are not related, but they are good friends. The largest of our hippos is 35 years old and our smaller hippo is only 6 years old. Hippos have a life expectancy of about 37 years out in the wild, but in captivity they can get into their fifties all because of the better care that they receive. They have access to medical care and their food is always provided.
Hippos are herbivores which means they only eat plant material. Out in the wild, they’ll browse grasses at night, but here at the zoo, we feed them hay, alfalfa, and a high fiber grain mix. We use fruits and vegetables as treats during chat time and training. Now, when it comes to our hippos, we are always in protected contact with them. We never enter their space and they never enter our space. We can touch them and feed them, but we’ll always have bars between us. Hippos are considered the most dangerous mammal in Africa. They are extremely territorial especially over their water source. If a person or animal comes too close, a hippo will open their mouth and display their incisors and canines as a warning. Hippos can open their mouths about 150 degrees. If a person or animal still comes closer, hippos will thrash their head back and forth to appear big and scary, and if that still doesn’t work, they’ll charge. Hippos can run up to 30 miles per hour on land for short bursts.
As I mentioned, hippos graze at night which means they’re mostly nocturnal and that’s because their skin doesn’t do the greatest in the hot, African sun. Hippos will spend about 16 hours a day sleeping in water. If they do come out on land during the day, they have a unique secretion called “blood sweat” that helps keep their skin from drying out, provides bug repellant, and antibiotics to heal wounds. Blood sweat isn’t blood, it’s just red in color.
Hippos can spend so much time in the water because they’re highly adapted to it. Their ears, eyes, and nose are all on the tops of their heads, so when they surface, they can hear, see, and scent all around them. Hippos don’t actually swim. They’re denser than water, so they sink to the bottom of the riverbeds where they live. They can hold their breath for about 5 minutes and when it comes time to breathe, they just push off the bottom of the riverbed to surface. Hippos can sleep underwater, their bodies naturally rise up to breath without them having to wake up for it.
I mentioned that hippos live in rivers. They can be found along the rivers and lakes in Africa. Their name: hippopotamus is actually Greek for “river horse.” Hippos got this comparison for how they walk along the bottoms of rivers, people thought they looked like horses trotting. Hippos living in the rivers of Africa is actually a good thing for the land. Their feces can float down stream and fertilize the land. They provide food for other species. Certain fish will eat algae and other built up off a hippo’s skin, providing hyenine for a good meal. There are bird species who eat the build up in a hippo’s mouth, providing good oral hygiene.
Hippos, themselves, don’t have any natural predators. Lions and crocodiles will go after baby hippos, but steer clear of adult hippos. Adult hippos are capable of crushing a crocodile in half with the force of their jaws. When it comes to social behaviors, hippos live in pods or bloats that are typically led by a dominate male. There can be up to thirty hippos in a pod. Younger hippos are kept in the center for their protection.
When it comes to endangerment status, hippos are not considered endangered, but their population sizes are being watched. I mentioned hippos graze at night. Well, sometimes, when they travel to graze, they end up in a farmer’s field. They can also find conflict with humans in the rivers themselves when boats try to pass through. Hippos are strong enough to capsize boats and can easily be mistaken as logs or stones in the water. Like most species, hippos are at risk of habitat loss with farmers encroaching on their grazing grounds and boats encroaching on their rivers. Ways to help hippos is to support your local zoo, part of your ticket purchase is going toward animal conservation. Other ways to help are to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Landfills take up a lot of space and the less we have in them, the fewer habitats they encroach on. Climate change can also effect the rainy seasons in African. A shorter rainy season leads to fewer grasses grown and can make it harder for a hippo to provide food. The rainy season is also their mating season and a shorter season will lead to less hippos being born in the wild.
Another way to help all sorts of animals around the world is through AmazonSmile. We all know of Amazon.com, the largest online shopping site that I know of. Well, smile.amazon.com is the exact same thing except part of the proceeds from your Amazon purchases goes to your charitable organization of choice. You could set your organization to the Cheetah Conservation Fund, Pandas International, Red Panda Network, tiger sanctuaries, Polar Bears International, elephant sanctuaries. You basically type in your favorite animal and you’ll find an organization dedicated to helping that animal. Then every purchase you make on Amazon will give a little bit of money to those organizations. So, be sure to double check your app and make sure you’re using AmazonSmile instead of just Amazon.com.
Okay. Does anyone have any questions about the hippos?