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Hippopotamus

CLASS

Mammals

FAMILY

Hippopotamidae

SCIENTIFIC NAME

Hippopotamus amphibius

WHERE IS IN THE PARK

Safari

The hippopotamus is an Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulate) mammal and it belongs to the Hippopotamidae family, which includes only one other extant member: the pygmy hippopotamus. Originally spread over sub-Saharan Africa, today the hippopotamus has dramatically contracted its scattered area, mainly because of hunting and agricultural practices carried on by man.
It is definitely one among the largest living terrestrial mammals, second just to elephant and some rhinoceros. The adult males can reach up to 5 meters in length and a 150 cm height at the shoulder. Regarding the mass, its average weight ranges from 1,500 to 1,800 kg, but it is not rare that old specimens surpass 3 tons. The shape of the body is lengthened, with short legs and a massive head. The skin is almost hairless, with few hair concentrated on the ears, muzzle and tail. To prevent the desiccation of the skin, the hippopotamus spends the hottest day hours submerged in water, where, most of the time, it rests. Despite the mass, the hippopotamus can gallop at 40 km/h for short distances. This capacity, combined to the size and the very aggressive temperament, make the hippo devoid of natural enemies. It can be a serious threat for humans too.
The hippopotamus live in rivers and lakes, and never get too much far away from water. A good swimmer, it uses its four finger paws to move in the water. Vegetarian, it mostly feeds on land, grazing on different kinds of grasses. The adaptation to a semiaquatic life is proofed by the shapes of its eyes, nostrils and ears, that allow an optimal view even in the water and an hermetic seal during diving. Teething is impressive: the sharp and pointed canines grow incessantly and may exceed half a meter in length for over 3 kg. Hippos are social animals and live in groups consisting of a dominant male and many other individuals. In the dry season, when water availability is reduced, it is not uncommon to find hundreds of hippos side by side in the mud. Sometimes, fights between males occur, also pretty brutal. Hippos can open the jaws of 150 degrees and their canines constitute a more than viable weapon against the rival. On the male’s skin is not unusual to find deep scars, memories of past duels. Rarely fatal, battles end with the loser leaving the battlefield. Life expectancy in the wild can exceed 40 years.

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