Africa’s ‘river horses’ wallow by day and graze at night. Living in herds with a dominant male in charge, these placid-looking beasts are in fact extremely aggressive – more dangerous than crocodiles. They use their fearsome tusks for defence and fighting – but are vegetarians and can consume up to 35kg of grass a day, often ranging many miles from the water on moonlit nights. It is interesting to sit and watch a group of hippos at rest in the water – especially if one has a view from the top of a tall bank. I watched once from the banks of the Sabi river as two young bulls chased each other from one end of a pool to another in a swift-moving underwater ballet. The little pink-and-grey babies take refuge as close to mother as possible in these cases, sometimes climbing half out of the water onto her back. Hippos communicate with a deep, snorting chuckle; one of my favourite sounds in Africa. An amusing legend tells how the hippo begged the Creator to be allowed to live in the river – but the Creator was concerned that such a large animal might eat all the fish. So He made the hippo promise to eat only grass and to scatter its dung in full view on the river bank – so that He could check that there were no fish bones.
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