African Hippopotamus – hippopotamus amphibius

Pod of Hippo's

wallowing in the mud - Busanga Plans, Kafue National Park

The portly Hippo has kept us entertained for centuries with their uncomfortable gait on land and their loud-speaker like calls when in the water. The Hippo is one of Africa’s iconic animals, much like the Elephants and the Lions yet we don’t see them much because 95 percent of their bodies are usually hidden beneath the water.

Of late the movie Madagascar II has made Hippo’s a little more famous and perhaps handsome or attractive. Often when out sitting next to the river watching these large lumps of lard I imagine them dancing to the tune of ‘I like them chunky!’

Hippo have been on the list as one of the most dangerous killers in Africa for a long while now and this is more due to their territorial temperament than their nature. As with humans, the older hippos get, the more cranky they are and it is these older bulls that have been kicked out of their family group, often with mortal wounds, that cause the many deaths in Africa each year. They are easily tempted into a full charge with mouth agape bearing those massive curved razor sharp tusks.

Despite their size, their power and ferocious nature Hippos are cowards deep down and scuttle to the safety of the water at the slightest sign of danger. They outweigh a lion 10 times yet the sight or smell of one sends them into a frantic headlong charge towards the water knocking down all in front of them.

Hippo’s live in family groups with a couple of older cows seeing over the younger ones and the babies while the dominant bull will keep all territorial challenges at bay. Watching these powerful masses of muscle chomp at each other with razor sharp saber-like teeth is a sight to behold. Often bulls will fight to the death yet most of the time the weaker will yield and run for it.


basking hippo

the most common shot angle on Hippo

hunting tips – the hunt
To hunt a hippo is probably as challenging as beating a fly to death with a rolled up piece of newspaper. Stories abound of ferocious hippo that charge out of the water for no reason, trying to kill all passers by. While some old bulls do get defensive and a bit cranky, 90% of hippo are shot while they are in the water from about 50 yards away. A bull is chosen and one simply walks up to the bank of the river or pond, takes aim, waits for the hippo to present a good head shot and bang, hunt over. Don’t get the wrong idea however, some of these situations are easy, others are extremely difficult as the shot pertains a quick action at a target the size of a baseball which is bobbing in and out of the water.

The hippo will usually float to the surface within an hour or will be visible in shallow water whereupon it is retrieved and hauled to the bank. This is often the most interesting part as local fishermen or the PH’s own trackers wade into theĀ  crocodile-infested river to tie the rope around the hippo and then the work starts – hippo are very heavy and not easily processed.

hippo meat

Butchering a Hippo

Most hunters will shoot hippo, however, as it makes excellent lion bait and the decision is usually a matter of necessity rather than choice.

hunting tips – the caliber
The most common shot for obvious reasons is the brain shot. Directly between the eyes or between the eye and the ear are the best areas to aim for. However in rivers that are not too deep and expansive, one can go for the heart shot if the body is exposed. I have shot a number of wounded hippo quartering away from a high bank with just their backs exposed. If you have a clear shot at the vitals then it is a good alternative.

Although the .375 magnum is the minimum legal requirement for shooting hippo, I have seen hunters use 7mm Magnums, 300 Magnums (even 30-06) with good quality solids and some also use soft points as it creates a more impressive impact shattering bone and rupturing the brain.

hunting tips – where
The best countries to hunt hippo are Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana. South Africa does have hippo on offer but they are expensive when compared with the countries to the north and are usually introduced animals sitting like ducks in a pond.

Hippo Bull

The mighty one - Hippo Bull, Busanga Plains, Kafue

The hunting of hippo is usually incidental to the hunting of another species such as lion or buffalo although of late they have become popular in their own right and many Hippo combination hunts are offered.

* Hippo are the third heaviest land mammal after the elephant and the white rhino – they can weigh up to 4000 lbs AND run up to 18 mph
* Hippo live for about 40 – 50 years, similar to elephants – the oldest hippo in captivity lived to 61
* Hippos have a natural sunscreen secreted through their skin which allows them to bask in the sun for hours without any affect.
* Hippos give birth underwater and babies can weight as little as 60lbs and have to swim to the surface to take their first breath.


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