Werribee Open Range Zoo offers the chance to be awed by these massive creatures, who inspire a healthy respect in everyone who meets one. While their name means ‘river horse’ their closest relatives are whales and dolphins.
Concerns about the future of this species have grown over the last few years and hippopotamus are now classed as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (on the IUCN ‘red list’). Populations have declined by up to 20% in some areas of sub-Saharan Africa, which is their home. The risks include loss of habitat (they spend their days in fresh water pools) and hunting for their flesh and teeth (ivory).
Your visit helps to fight species extinction. Visiting the hippos at Werribee is an opportunity not only to marvel at these amazing animals, but also to learn about the threats to many African species, what the international community is doing to try to conserve this species, and how Zoos Victoria is contributing to the fight.
Hippopotamuses are nocturnal feeders, emerging from their pools at dusk and feeding in the cool, moist night air. These large herbivores follow the same paths each night and graze by cutting grasses with their broad lips. At dawn, they return to the water, where they spend most of the day. If the weather is suitable, hippopotamuses will also bask in the sun on land or in mud wallows. Males weigh up to 3 tonnes and females up to 1.4 tonnes.
Hippopotamuses are aggressive, unpredictable and easily enraged. Females are social, living in groups and helping look after each other’s calves. Males are fiercely territorial and are more innately aggressive than other species. They mark their territory by flicking their tails while defecating, spreading their scent as far as possible. Males fight over females during breeding season, and over water space constantly.
Hippopotamuses, especially the males, have large ivory tusks jutting upwards from their lower jaw. These are fighting teeth, while teeth for grinding food are located at the back of the jaws.
- The hippopotamus’s closest living relatives are whales and dolphins
- Hippopotamus are virtually hairless and have a thin top layer of skin, so moisture loss in dry air is greater than for other animals. Staying in water prevents dehydration
- They can run at speeds of 30km per hour, but only for very short bursts
- Hippopotamuses ooze a pinkish fluid when they are in the sun which acts as a sunscreen