Literally! Well it was really close to bumping into them. I managed to stop the car about 5 meters away from them. Once you leave the tar road on the way to the farm, one has to travel about 10km’s on a sand road that runs between farms and along the Blyde river. When I first moved onto the property, the sand portion of my trip used to take about 25 minutes. I have noticed that this time has been becoming less and less as I get to know the road intimately. When we are really pushed for time I manage to do it in just over 10 minutes. This is not a good thing. As I found out last night when I was sliding very rapidly towards the three HUGE monsters.
The hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius), or hippo, from the ancient Greek for “river horse” (Ιπποπόταμος), is a large, mostly herbivorous mammal in sub-Saharan Africa, and one of only two extant species in the family Hippopotamidae (the other is the Pygmy Hippopotamus.) The hippopotamus is the third largest land animal (after the elephant and the white rhinoceros) and the heaviest extant artiodactyl, despite being considerably shorter than the giraffe. The hippopotamus is semi-aquatic, inhabiting rivers and lakes where territorial bulls preside over a stretch of river and groups of 5 to 30 females and young. During the day they remain cool by staying in the water or mud; reproduction and childbirth both occur in water. They emerge at dusk to graze on grass.
The earliest known hippopotamus fossils, belonging to the genus Kenyapotamus in Africa, date to around 16 million years ago.
The hippopotamus is recognizable by its barrel-shaped torso, enormous mouth and teeth, nearly hairless body, stubby legs and tremendous size. It is the third-largest land mammal by weight (between 1½ and 3 tonnes). Hippos measure 3.3 to 5.2 meters long, including a tail of about 56 centimeters in length and average about 1.5 meters tall at the shoulder.
Hippos have been clocked at 30 km/h over short distances. The hippopotamus is one of the most aggressive creatures in the world and is often regarded as one of the most dangerous animals in Africa.
Hippos spend most of their days wallowing in the water or the mud, with the other members of their pod. The water serves to keep their body temperature down, and to keep their skin from drying out. With the exception of eating, most of hippopotamuses’ lives —from childbirth, fighting with other hippos, and reproduction— occur in the water.
Hippos leave the water at dusk and travel inland, sometimes up to 8 kilometers , to graze on short grass, their main source of food. They spend four to five hours grazing and can consume 68 kilograms of grass each night. Like almost any herbivore, they will consume many other plants if presented with them, but their diet in nature consists almost entirely of grass, with only minimal consumption of aquatic plants.
Adult hippos cannot swim and are not buoyant. When in deep water, they usually propel themselves by leaps, pushing off from the bottom. They move at speeds up to 8 km/h in water. However, young hippos are buoyant and more often move by swimming —propelling themselves with kicks of their hind legs. Adult hippos typically resurface to breathe every 3–5 minutes. The young have to breathe every two to three minutes.The process of surfacing and breathing is automatic, and even a hippo sleeping underwater will rise and breathe without waking. A hippo closes its nostrils when it submerges.
Hippopotamuses are ill-tempered animals. Adult hippos are hostile toward crocodiles, which often live in the same pools and rivers as hippos. This is especially so when hippo calves are around. Nile crocodiles, along with lions and spotted hyenas, may prey on young hippos. Hippos are very aggressive towards humans. In fact, hippos are known to attack humans and boats.
To mark territory, hippos spin their tails while defecating to distribute their excrement over the greatest possible area. We saw evidence of this, this last weekend while we were walking down at the river. I was very concerned as I also saw very fresh hippo spoor and I made all the girls stay close and we moved away quickly. It’s a sure thing if you bump into a hippo on its pathway – you’re dead meat!
It’s quite easy to identify hippo pathways because they have a distinctive island (or middle-mannetjie) down the centre due to their broad bodies.
You need to steer clear of these at all times if possible.
I think I am going to be driving a bit slower on the sand road from now on……