Statistics show that the hippopotamus is responsible for more human deaths per year in Africa than all of the other large mammals put together. In fact on the list of deadly African creatures the hippo ranks fourth, behind mosquitoes, bees and crocodiles. All of these top four creatures have something in common – frequent contact with humans. The first three on the list deserve their ranking – disease and allergy are the reasons for the mosquitoes and bees being up at the top and the crocodile’s surprise attacks combined with the fact that humans are easy prey give them their high ranking. Hippo on the other hand are largely peaceful grazers who spend their days lazing around in the water – Human stupidity is the reason for their high ranking, much more so than the actual danger that a hippo can pose to a human.
Hippos occur widely in the larger watercourses and dams around Africa, and so do human settlements so some interaction is inevitable. The stupidity aspect come with not understanding the behaviour of a hippo. At night hippos come out of the water to feed, returning at sunrise. At sunrise many people head to the water to wash so the people and the hippo meet at the waters edge. Hippo will generally run straight through a person to get into the safety of the water, not as an aggressive manoeuvre, but out of fear. The hippo feels threatened by humans so moves straight into the safety of the water, usually along a well defined path. People make the mistake of using the same paths to go to the water, hence the contact between the two. If people stayed off the hippo paths in the early morning they would be a lot safer, but they don’t…
When a hippo is in the water it feels safe and will not come out to bother people on the edges of the waterways as long as they do not get in the water as well. People do still get in the water – to swim , bathe and fish. The hippo can then perceive this as a thread and may attack to defend itself. Simple rule here would be ‘Don't get in the water with a hippo” but this rule is often broken.
Could it be that people do not know there is a hippo in the water where they are? Perhaps so, but the hippo are kind enough to give a series of warnings before they attack. The warnings include vocalization, yawning and scent marking. If these warnings are ignored then it is down to human stupidity if anything goes wrong.
The selection of videos here show that the warning displays from hippos are hard to miss!
The final video was used for the opening sequence of the Discovery Channel’s series “Dual Survival” episode entitled “Hippo Island”