Somehow, the African hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibious, has gained a reputation of being a roly-poly friendly gray animal that is sometimes seen on the big screen wearing a pink tutu. The reality is something really quite different. The African hippo has the reputation in African countries of being one of the most dangerous animals and biggest killers of people. The older African hippos get, the meaner they get. They’ve been kicked out of their family groups, sometimes with a younger male having injured the old bull in the process. It’s been said that an old bull hippo wakes up angry in the morning, and his demeanor goes downhill from there.
The average bull hippo tips the scales between 1.5 and 3 tons. He carries a full set of dentition that can tear a fiberglass boat in half; shear a crocodile in two, or chop up a human being with little effort. Their tusks range from 1.3 feet to 1.6 feet long and continually sharpen themselves by stropping the canines together. When he gets the wind up him, he can navigate through the bush on his short stumpy legs at up to 19 miles per hour, and 5 mph in the water.
The African hippo subsists on grasses. During the day the hippo stays cool by sinking itself in water, or digging into mud. They go looking for grass to graze on at dusk, returning to the pan (pool) in the morning. This is when they are the most dangerous. A lot of villagers use hippo trails to go from their hut to the river to gather water. If a hippo is returning to the river and encounters someone, the person could be in great danger of being killed. The hippo will run to the water anytime it’s disturbed. It will also charge and attack anybody, animal or obstacle that’s in its way.
The hippo is actually a bit of a coward. It weighs 8 to 10 times more than a lion, but at the first whiff of cat, the hippo will kick in overdrive and run headlong to the water, regardless of what or who is in the way.
The African hippo can be found in the rivers and lakes of Africa from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, west to Gambia and south throughout South Africa. Two of the best places to hunt/observe hippos in Africa are in the rivers and swamps of Tanzania, and the Zambezi River area.
Hunting hippo in Africa can be very difficult. Mostly the old bulls are hunted for their ivory and hides. As they spend most of their time in the water, submerged up to their little beady eyes, identifying male from female, or estimating the animal’s size can be quite difficult. Added to this, if the hippo gets the hunter’s scent, or spots movement, he’ll quietly submerge and either swim or walk along the river bottom to another area.
A mature bull can be identified by the presence of two humps on each side of his nostrils where his lower tusks rest when his mouth is closed. He should be stalked as close as possible. The perfect shot would be from the river bank, slightly above the water, and no more than fifty yards away. Shot placement will have to be exact. Only a brain shot should be used, as that’s the only part of the hippo that will be exposed. If the African hippo is facing the hunter, then a between-the-eyes shot into a small triangular indentation just above the eye-to-eye centerline can be made. If the head is sideways, then aim just below the ears. After the hippo is hit, it will sink beneath the surface, out of sight. In an hour, or so, it will float back to the surface. At that time, some brave soul will have to be enticed into wading out and tying a rope to the hippo’s leg. Caution, and someone standing guard with some major firepower, will be required, as a dead hippo is high on a Nile croc’s lunch menu.
It’s also possible to hunt hippo on land. This can be an experience that gives a hunter the shakes and twitches for many a night. A foot and a half of matching razor-sharp tusks propelled by six thousand pounds of muscle moving at nineteen miles an hour will tend to concentrate your senses most finely. This is the time to have some decent firepower and the ability to use it well. Of course, having your Professional Hunter next to you carrying a rifle with a caliber over .40 will be most useful too. When you hunt a hippo on land, and have the time to place a shot, place it on the tip of the shoulder. If you’re facing down a charge, then only the brain shot will stop the hippo.
Minimum caliber is the venerable .375 – be it the well-regarded H&H or the much newer Ruger .375. A double rifle in .450 Nitro Express or the more powerful .500 Nitro Express would make a nice companion if a land hunt is planned.
Seven Hippo Facts