Territory is everything

Sabi Sand | November 2020

It is engraved in our history and culture. For centuries battles and wars have been fought over the right to claim land and many have lost their lives in the pursuit of this violent act. This primal exercise now takes on a more formal process to make right the wrongs of our past, but nothing has changed in the natural world.

These territorial battles are brutal and often it is a fight to the death. For the hippopotamus territory and hierarchy is everything. The bulls that hold territory have access to cows, precious grazing pastures and most importantly a watering hole that protects them from the unforgiving sun.

Competition between bulls is so intense it has led to the development of large tusks that take on a weapon-like appearance and are often presented in such a manner when confronted by a rival.

During the spring of 2020, Castleton Dam hosted a battle of two bull hippos. This watering hole for some time housed two bulls that tolerated each other. However, one evening a newcomer wandered into the watering hole. Cleary three was a crowd and this sparked a fight to the death between one of the resident bull hippos and the new bull. This battle continued for over 24 hours with periods of rests which were then broken by short bursts, mouths agape at the opponent. All three hippos bellowed as the tension continued to build between them. The newcomer to the area persisted to throw his weight around, using his large tusks to inflict numerous punctures into the thick skin of his rival. Eventually, the resident bull succumbed to his injuries, and to the victor goes the spoils.

Life goes on at Castleton Dam, and weeks after the battle we are still reminded about what happened back then. The hierarchy has been set with the new bull showing his dominance by flicking his dung when in the presence of the other bull.

Nature can be cruel and we must never forget how far we have come as species in trying to have legal systems in place to peacefully protect our territories.