Werribee Open Range Zoo provides a rare opportunity to get up close to these intriguing animals. You can sit and watch the hippos along the Pula Walking trail as well as seeing them while out on Safari.
While the name hippopotamus means ‘river horse’, their closest relatives are actually 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). According to the IUCN, the most recent population estimates suggest a 7-20% decline in hippo populations over the past decade. Threats to hippos include habitat loss, and poaching for meat and their ivory teeth.
Preferred hippo habitat includes slow-moving, fresh water with flat grassy areas nearby for feeding. Unfortunately, this is also the type of habitat that humans seek out and this leads to human-animal conflict – especially as fresh water bodies in Africa can be scarce.
Hippos spend most of their time in the water, venturing out at dusk to feed in the cool of the evening. These giant herbivores spend the night grazing on grass before returning to the water at dawn. If the weather is suitable, they will bask in the sun either on land or in mud wallows.
While they are herbivores, hippos are very territorial and protective of their families and can be very aggressive. A hippo will head for the water if they feel threatened. Unfortunately, as the valuable resource of water within their habitat is often shared with people, this commonly results in conflict.
Adult hippos have between 36–40 teeth, with the canine teeth (tusks) measuring up to 50cm in males especially. These large ivory tusks protrude outside and upwards from their lower jaw. Teeth for grinding food are located at the back of the jaw; their enormous tusks are used purely for fighting and defending themselves. It is these large ivory teeth that are bringing hippos under threat in the wild.
By the age of two major predator threats from carnivores decrease, replaced by the increasing threat of humans targeting hippos for the illegal ivory and bush meat trades.
Hippos are very important ambassadors at the Zoo, affording visitors the opportunity to connect with these awesome animals, while learning more about their increasingly vulnerable status in wild and what they can do to help them.