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in stagnant or slow-moving bodies of water throughout the day,
the hippo seems to epitomize laziness. Hippopotamus means river
horse, and the animal relies on the water to keep cool and
to protect its very thin epidermis from the suns rays.
the sun goes down, though, the hippo becomes a hardy hiker and,
sometimes, a ferocious fighter. The stubby-legged hippo may walk
five miles in a solitary search for food after depleting the supply
of aquatic plants. It often takes over 100 pounds of grass to
fill up a hungry hippo, which may weigh over 8,000 pounds and
measure 15 feet long by 5 feet tall. Among land animals, only
the elephant is larger.
gather at the water in herds of 10 to 100 cows, presided over
by a highly territorial bull. With razor-sharp canines that can
grow longer than two feet, bulls leave deep gashes in their rivals
brown or gray skin during fights that last up to two hours. Bulls
that avoid death in battle may reach the age of 50.
born underwater, the infant hippo learns to swim before it can
walk. The single offspring, which weighs only about 100 pounds,
can stay underwater for around 20 seconds, compared to as long
as six minutes for a mature hippo.
hippo once flourished throughout Africa, but its habitat from
the Upper Nile to South Africa continues to shrink. The species
© 1998 Terry White, Drawing © 1998 Bill Harrah.