Hippopotamus Fact Sheet

Common Name:


Scientific Name:

Hippopotamus Amphibius

Wild Status:



Rivers, Lakes, Mangrove Swamps


Sub-Saharan Africa



Life Span:

50 years


~3,000 lbs

Cool Facts:

  • Hippos cannot float; neither can they swim. They walk along the bottom of the river or lake-bed.
  • They have sensitive skin and have adapted to this by secreting a red oil that acts as a moisturizer, sun-block, and helps prevent infection.
  • These animals can hold their breath for 7 minutes max. Sleeping hippos come up for air without waking up.
  • They can be heard marking their territory with honk like sounds. They will also yawn by opening their mouths very wide and bare their large tusks and teeth.
  • When grazing, Hippos use their muscular lips to tear up and eat the grass, much like a horse.
  • Hippos are closely related to whales.
  • They are considered the most dangerous animal in Africa.
  • These animals are ranked as the 3rd largest land animal. The first is the elephant and the second is the white rhino.


There are two existing species of the hippopotamus family, the common hippo (larger of the two) and the pygmy hippo. Hippos spend the day staying cool in water or mud and rise at dusk to graze. Hippos are known as remarkably territorial animals. This has earned them the reputation of being the most dangerous animal in Africa. They use their sharp teeth and powerful jaws to rip and thrash at what they feel threatened by. They have even been known to capsize boats and attack the humans that fall from the vessel. Hippos are able to run up to 19 mph and can use this skill in their aggression as well. However, these aggressive behaviors are only observed when threatened or when in water defending their territory. When left alone, they are peaceful and quite shy. These animals have ears, eyes, and nostrils at the top of their heads so that they are able to remain fully submerged and still able to use their main senses. They live in groups, called herds or pods, of around 25 hippos. Certain species of fish share a symbiotic relationship with hippos in that they both benefit. The fish get a free meal from the bacteria and dead skin from the hippo's hide, and the hippo benefits from cleanliness.

Taxonomic Breakdown:

Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Mammalia Order: Artiodactyla Family: Hippopotimidae Genus: Hippopotamus

Conservation & Helping:

Hippos are highly threatened in their environment. They used to roam all of Southern Africa as well as all along the Nile up to the Mediterranean Sea. They are now limited to only two species and smaller plots of river and lakes in Southern Africa. They are threatened by human development, shrinking habitat, and poaching. It is illegal to hunt and kill a hippopotamus; however, they continue to be hunted for their tusks and their meat. This is often justified due to the deep-seeded cultural fear revolving around hippopotamus. Organizations such as the African Wildlife Foundation are working towards nurturing the relationship between hippos and humans. They are building fences and trenches to keep hippos from grazing near human activity. This keeps both the humans and the hippos from feeling threatened or in danger. It is important that we give these animals the space that they are asking for, as they play a key role in the delicate balance of the environment.

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