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Do hippopotamus have horns?


“Do hippopotamus have horns?”


Occasionally I like to check the keywords used on search engines that lead to our blog. This task of mine has lead me to realise that this is something that many people ask but we hadn’t covered it.

In order to answer the question “Do hippopotamus have horns?” we must first answer the following question:


“What is the difference between hippopotamus and rhinoceros?”


So why would I assume that the problem here is that you might be confusing hippos and rhinos?
The answer is quite simple. In terms of appearance, habitat and even (some) behaviour, both species can be quite similar, therefore many people sometimes get them mixed up.

So first of all let’s check out the similarities between species:


Both Rhinoceros and Hippopotamus are:

  • Big, heavy animals (both males and females weighing over a tonne),
  • Greyish in colour with a thick skin,
  • Mammals (babies drink milk from the mother),
  • Located in the African continent,
  • Very dangerous to humans,
  • Herbivorous (only eat plant matter),
  • Territorial (males),
  • Faster than any human on Earth (yes, even Usain Bolt),
  • Can’t swim.
White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)

White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)
Photo Credit

Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)

Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)
Photo Credit



Now what about the differences between these two species?


  • Second largest land mammal,
  • There are 5 different species of rhinos: white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum), black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus), indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) and the sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis).
  • Located in Africa and Asia,
  • Spend their day on land,
  • Have been around for about 11 million to 15 million years,
  • Don’t have any sharp teeth,
  • Are odd toed ungulates (with three toes on each foot).
  • Very threatened by illegal poaching,
  • Are one of the Big 5 species,
  • Have horn(s). The Javan and Indian species have only one horn while the black, white and sumatran species have two horns on their face.
White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) mother with baby

White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) with baby
Photo Credit

















  • They are the third largest land mammal,
  • There are only 2 species of hippopotamus: the “normal” hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) and the pygmy hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis),
  • Only located in Africa,
  • Spend most of their day inside the water (but can’t swim!),
  • Share a common ancestor with whales,
  • Have been around for 8 million to 16 million years,
  • Have very big, sharp canines and incisors (tusks), used for fighting,
  • Are even toed ungulates (with four toes on each foot),
  • Not as threatened by illegal poaching as the rhino,
  • Don’t have horns!
Mother Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) with baby

Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) with baby
Photo Credit

















So to conclude:

Hippopotamus do not have horns but they do have big tusks that they use to defend against predators or fight each other.

Rhinoceros use their horns to defend against predators and fight each other since they don’t have tusks.


Angry hipppopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)

Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)
Photo Credit

White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)

White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)
Photo Credit













Até à próxima!

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On Drug Lords and Hippos

We are all familiar with one of Africa’s most iconic animals; the noble hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius). The hippopotamus (or hippo) is a large, aquatic, herbivorous mammal that lives in the waterways of sub-Saharan Africa, however, for the last couple of decades, these animals have embarked on a peculiar experiment and have begun to colonise some of the lakes and rivers of Colombia in South America.

A black and white portrait of Pablo Escobar.

Pablo Escobar was a Colombian drug lord who used his extraordinary wealth to build his own private zoo.

This bizarre story starts with the exploits of one man in the 1980s: Pablo Escobar was a notorious Colombian drug lord who trafficked cocaine and built a crime empire that earned him the title of world’s wealthiest criminal. In the 1980s, Escobar’s cartel controlled 80% of the world’s cocaine industry and he managed to acquire US$30 billion in the process. So where does a billionaire drug lord make his home? Well, in a sprawling, luxurious, palatial estate of course: Escobar built for himself the sprawling Hacienda Nápoles; a 20km2 ranch containing everything from a private airport, to a bullring, to a dinosaur themed playground, but the most important part (for this story) is the zoo. The Hacienda Nápoles zoo contained a huge variety of exotic creatures, smuggled into Colombia from all over the world, many from Africa, including a small herd of 4 hippos.

So what happens next? Well, in 1993, Pablo Escobar was killed in a gun battle with Colombian police leaving the future of his ill-gained property uncertain. The next battle was a legal one, over who was responsible for the sprawling ranch in Antioquia (a region of rural Colombia); Escobar’s family fought with the government for many years over custody, but in the meantime, the hacienda was neglected and fell into disrepair. Thankfully, most of the resident animals of Escobar’s zoo were relocated to zoos in and out of Colombia where they could be cared for properly, but the hippos were left behind (no-one is particularly eager to take on a group of 2 tonne adult hippos). The hippo habitat at the hacienda is, thankfully, quite suited to the animals and they were happy to reside there while the rest of the zoo was slowly reclaimed by the forest.

The story gets interesting again a whole 14 years later in 2007 when local farmers and fishermen in the region began contacting the government’s environmental department reporting encounters with strange animals in Antioquia’s rivers and lakes. As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, these strange animals were Escobar’s hippos. It turns out that the hippo’s lake at Hacienda Nápoles was only separated from the waters beyond by a flimsy fence that was no match for a hefty hippo and adventurous individuals had pushed past the fence and explored the lush waterways beyond, in particular the Río Magdalena (Magdalena river).


The hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) is native to sub-Saharan Africa, but has been introduced to South America.
Photo Credits.

Colombia turned out to be an ideal place for displaced hippos to prosper, especially the Antioquia region where a tropical climate keeps things warm and wet, and the Magdalena river system provides an ideal habitat due to its shallow and slow moving waters. Most of the regions in Africa from where hippos originate are annually subjected to extended dry periods where hippopotamus populations are forced to battle for survival until the rains return and the rivers swell once more; this is not the case in their new South American home and the Colombian hippos are free to frolic all year round. And ‘frolic‘ they did; Escobar originally smuggled 4 hippos into his zoo (3 females and 1 male) and in new ideal conditions, without adequate management, that population exploded and now there are estimated to be as many as 60 individuals in the area! The original male hippo, named El Viejo (The Old Man) produced several sons who would have been driven away from their maternal group when they reached sexual maturity which triggered their exodus from the zoo, out into the wild.

The hippos have expanded their kingdom quite extensively and there have been sightings as far as 250km away from the zoo. Encounters between local people and the animals has been becoming increasingly common; the region is very sparsely populated but those who live there are predominantly farmers and fishermen. The encounters usually take place on or around the water, but sometimes at night, when the animals come onto land to feed (often on farmers’ crops). We know that hippos can be extremely dangerous animals, one of the most dangerous animals on Earth, and certainly the most dangerous mammal, killing thousands of people every year in Africa, however, fortunately there have yet to be any deaths or serious injuries relating to the Colombian hippos, but it is perhaps just a matter of time. As encounters become more and more intimate, the odds of a deadly conflict increase and there are already reports of baby hippos being brought into homes and children swimming in ponds inhabited by the notoriously grumpy creatures.

The Open Mouth of a Hippo

Hippos use their formidable canines to attack rivals and threats. They are the most dangerous mammals on Earth.
Photo Credits.

So what is the future for these alien animals? That is a complicated question that has many answers. The hippos pose a potential safety risk to local people and threaten regional crops and livestock, but there is also an ecological risk; the hippopotamus does not belong in South America and the population is growing wildly out of control. Everyone involved agrees that something needs to be done, but no-one can seem to agree what is the best course of action. The one thing that is certain is that they can’t go back to the wild in Africa due to disease transmission risks, but there are several other proposed ideas:

  • A dedicated wildlife reserve should be created to house all of the animals once they have been rounded up.

  • All of the males should be identified and castrated so that the population will not grow any further, and eventually die off.

  • The animals should be hunted for food for the local people (apparently hippo tastes remarkably like pork).

  • A full scale culling operation should be used.

  • Every hippo should be captured and relocated to zoos.

Unfortunately, Colombia does not have the finance or resources for many of these options, and there are also serious ethical concerns on how to treat the animals.

Pablo Escobar has left a strange and controversial legacy in Colombia; to many he is a violent, drug dealing, criminal gangster who destabilised the region and caused death and corruption, to others he is a ‘Robin Hood’ character who battled a corrupt government and gave generously to poor people, personally funding schools and hospitals. The hippopotamus population he has left behind in his country is as fascinating and controversial as the man himself.

Colombia has the highest number of terrestrial mammal species of any country in the world and now hippos can join the list, at least until someone can figure out what to do with them!

Much love,



Dangerous Herbivores: Hippo

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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