Wildlife TV

Learn interesting and funny plant and animal facts with videos and photos

Dangerous Herbivores: Hippo

on July 15, 2013

Herbivorous animals, by definition, feed on plant matter such as leaves and grass, they are not adapted for hunting and killing prey and yet they are able to kill, and very effectively too.  There are many reasons why large herbivores can be so dangerous, and these reasons are mostly because they possess adaptations that benefit them such as weapons and behaviours with which to fight amongst themselves or to protect themselves in a hostile environment. We’ve seen in previous posts how elephants, rhinos and buffalo can be extremely dangerous, but there is another plant eating mammal that takes the title most dangerous of all; the Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibious) is the mammal that kills more humans than any other!


We couldn’t possibly discuss the topic of dangerous animals without bringing up the hippo; although they are not one of the Big 5 (historically the animals that were most dangerous to hunt) they are infamously one of the most dangerous animals of all. People often say that the hippo is the most dangerous animal in Africa but this is not quite accurate as snakes and crocodiles kill more people annually and of course the malaria parasite carried by Anopheles Mosquitos is the greatest killer of humans in the entire world, however, the hippopotamus does hold the title of the most dangerous mammal, killing more humans each year than any other, and killing more than all of the Big 5 combined!

Hippos are aquatic mammals that spend most of their time and perform most of their activities in the water but do their feeding on dry land; they are grazers, feeding exclusively on grass however, they have teeth that do not seem suited for this purpose. Hippos have large molar teeth in their cheeks that are used to grind up tough grass stems and leaves however, hippos have very conspicuous canines and incisors protruding from their mouths, and these are used to display dominance, to fight with rivals and to attack their enemies. A male hippo’s canines can reach a length of 50cm and are razor-sharp as they are sharpened by rubbing against each other every time the animals open and close their mouths. These mighty tusks, combined with hippos’ wide and powerful jaws mean that they have no problem in causing serious, often deadly wounds to their opponents, they have even been known to bite crocodiles clean in half! Hippos also manage to defend themselves effectively by having such thick skin which can weigh as much 500kg and be as thick as 15cm.

Two male hippopotamuses (Hippopotamus amphibius) fighting in the mud.

Male hippos (Hippopotamus amphibius) mostly use their large canines and incisors for fighting each other.
Photo Credits.

But if they are aquatic mammals, when do hippos attack humans? The conflict usually arises at the water’s edge where people come to practice fishing, fetch water for their village or to wash, hippos have also been known to attack swimmers in rivers/lakes or even people in canoes. Hippos are fiercely territorial and will not tolerate any encroachment on their watery home; they will often perform a threat display where they will open their mouths to display their fearsome teeth and they will thrash around in the water to demonstrate their strength. If in shallower waters, hippos will charge forward in the water to create a wave that is pushed towards the subject of their aggression, this is called a bow wave. Upon seeing any of these signs it is best to leave the animal well alone as people often underestimate how fast and agile they can be; a hippo can run at around 35kph in a determined charge and can launch out of the water before a person has any time to react. When hippos are out of the water (usually at night-time when feeding) any sort of threat will lead them instinctively to run back to the water where they feel safe and, unfortunately, anyone or anything in their way is liable to be bitten or trampled.

A hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) with its mouth open wide revealing its fearsome teeth.

The canines and incisors of hippos (Hippopotamus amphibius) are used for fighting and display whereas the molars at the back of the mouth are used for chewing food.
Photo Credits.

When humans and animals come into conflict, it is usually the animals that end up worse off, whether because of habitat destruction or hunting or any other reason, however, when it’s one on one, the result is often the other way around. We’ve seen that some animals are formidable beasts and are not shy about defending themselves against anything they perceive as a threat, and for many animals, the best form of defence is pre-emptive aggression. The most important lesson we can learn from all of the poor souls who have ended up meeting grizzly ends because of these mighty creatures is how to identify when animals are being aggressive; identify their warning signals and get away safely without being harmed and of course, without harming the animal unnecessarily.

I hope you enjoyed reading about dangerous hippos. To learn more about other dangerous animals, please check out series page.

Much love,



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