The beauty within a beast

Sabi Sand | February 2016

Mother Nature is a wonderful yet unpredictable mistress and her lessons are quite brutal. As we all know, in the wild it is “Survival of the fittest”; to make it you either need a good SURVIVAL instinct or merely have the face to scare. Some say “Mother Nature is the most of attractive feature on the face of this planet of ours.” But we all know that you can’t bribe nature with all the compliments.

The wild is filled with creatures both fierce and filled with fear. Here is a creature that has a bit of both, the Hippopotamus amphibious. This creature has the physique and looks of a beast yet its beastliness is noted as a form of self-defence. The hippopotamus is largely a herbivorous species and essential to the biodiversity within the water in which with which they reside, in a manner that the lakes, rivers or dams where they reside are kept in balance because, during nightfall they exit their habitat as they go grazing. During this process they may consume seeds from grass, reeds, etc. This grazing activity takes place the whole night and before the sun rises they hasten back to the water where they stay the whole day because their skin is thick yet highly sensitive to the heat of the sun. During this time they defecate many times, and some of those grass seeds may be spread to the banks of the river, where the dampness will cause them to germinate. This germination of grass seeds will restrict the expansion of the river, reducing erosion and will keep the river from becoming excessively wide. Some fish species and some aquatic invertebrates will feed on hippo dung.

These creatures are highly territorial but their territory is only in and around the water. A single male can mark a large plot by the river, keeping older males and sub-adult males away from the females.

It is well-known that hippos are amongst the most dangerous animals in the world, however if threatened on land they often run into the water

The hippopotamus is equipped with a highly effective defence mechanism which is its thick armoured skin which is hard to penetrate; predators find it very difficult to get through its skin. Also to defend itself it has enormous canine teeth and incisors accompanied by a large jaw with excessively strong jaw muscles not to mention the width of its mouth when open. All this makes the hippopotamus a fierce foe to be reckoned with.

On one of my recent game drives, I decided to drive across the Sand River which is the river that runs in front of our lodge. As we approached the river, just by the side of the crossing point there was a large raft of hippos which we subsequently spent a considerable amount of time watching and photographing.