Just South African Stories: The Idle Hippopotamus

My husband likes to remind me that hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal. A sliver of my right-brained mind likes facts and statistics to be proven, although statistics can lie depending on comparators, sample size and analytical methods.

So I got some.

https://lowvelder.co.za/245166/10-dangerous-animals-africa/ told me that yes, number one Homo sapiens killer in Africa is the bulbous, comedic river horse, Hippopotamus amphibius, the deadliest killer in all of Africa. This animal is followed by, in order, mosquito, elephant, black mamba, Nile crocodile, great white shark, lion, puff adder, Cape buffalo and African rhino.

I’ve had the honor and I mean honor to see seven of these ten in person (wait–the mosquito earns no honor) I am relieved to report that I have not seen, in the wild, the mamba, adder or shark.

The entire time I was on safari I was not frightened at all. I figured that if Dixon, our guide and driver, was not afraid, then I had no reason to be. (more on the hyenas who approached us as we were off-truck drinking our evening tea in a future blog.)

This February, I took the same safari I did last year, mainly because our group was six people and the best lodge to house us was Shishangeni, the same lodge as last year, and because it was the best experience of my life. This second time was even better.

There is a favorite Crocodile River overlook that the drivers like to use for our tea breaks. In the mornings, not-bad coffee and sweet rolls. In the evenings, wine and anything from popcorn to dried fruit.

The Crocodile River borders the southern edge of the 7580 square mile Kruger National Park. Our lodge is located at the southern border of the Park, tucked up against the western border of Mozambique, in Northeastern South Africa. Not all that far from the Indian Ocean. We are located in one of the eight catchment areas, also called Crocodile.

This is Kipling country. The Elephant’s Child “. . . took a hundred pounds of bananas (the little short red kind), and a hundred pounds of sugar-cane (the long purple kind), and seventeen melons (the greeny-crackly kind), and said to all his dear families, ‘Goodbye. I am going to the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, to find out what the Crocodile has for dinner.’”

(We saw the beautiful yellow-barked fever trees and the crocodiles, but not the Limpopo River, which flows through Mozambique to the Indian Ocean a little north of Maputo)

Crocs hang out in rivers and lakes and so do hippos. The hippos don’t seem bothered by them. I am not at all sure if they are natural enemies, or if the hippo babies are in danger from crocs, but they do seem to inhabit the same spaces.

I heard hippos a lot. Our first evening drive took us to the Crocodile River overlook, and in the pooling river above a weir, the water teemed with hippos. They snorted and huffed, and swam about. Hippos graze on land at night. The youngest babies stay in the water while the mother grazes on shore. These guys were hungry, getting ready to come ashore. But they weren’t exactly sure about us.

The next morning I woke up to a huffing snorting noise. Our lodge is closer to the river than I realized, but we are enclosed inside an electric fence. When I asked what I heard, I was told it was the hippos again, big males waking up and declaring themselves. On that morning’s drive we circled a small lake, on the shores of which stand a handful of raised canvas cabins called Shishangeni Camp. More hippos, and one sneaky croc moving through the reeds.

In a rain pool several yards away, a solitary hippo lay half-submerged in the water. Dixon worried out loud that perhaps he had taken shelter here from the others: maybe was in a fight, and he was taking a time out. We got very close to him, and Dixon made shishhing noises, hoping to get him to move. He had no thought of moving or even raising his head, as he peered at us considering his options.

Personally I was glad he had found a safe haven. Time to heal and grow, and maybe next time, win his fight.



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


Just South African Stories: The Idle Hippopotamus — 8 Comments

  1. Wow, fascinating stuff! And skeeters definitely don’t count. They are everywhere.

  2. Darling!!! I am writing a novel! Can you answer hippo questions? Like, is there a smell? (I bet there is if you keep them in domestic circumstances, but in the wild?) Do they do a great deal of that ear floppy thing, which I assume is originally intended to flip off flies? I don’t suppose you touched one? Are they flatulent, like cows?

    • Hi, Brenda,
      Can’t answer about the flatulence, but they did flip their ears. Never close enough to touch one. They stayed in the water, and we stayed on the land. Close to or inside the truck. As close as we were to our lonely hippo, I smelled nothing but damp earth and vegetation.
      Hope this helps!

      • Well, rats. I am going to make the ones in the novel flatulent, because it would lend so much tone to the characters’ experience. I am sure that the hippos in the book are not being fed a good diet, which would make them gassy.

  3. Hippo, mosquito, elephant, black mamba, Nile crocodile, great white shark, lion, puff adder, Cape buffalo and African rhino.

    Seen all of these in person (and killed a few mosquitoes rightbackatcha, thank you very much) – all, except the great white shark which I haven’t seen “for reals”, just in newsreels (which is quite enough thank you). But the rest? Seen ’em all. And watched a man die from a mamba bite when I was eleven, and escaped being bitten by a puffadder by literally inches. There’s a very good reason indeed why, for me, there are no non-poisonous snakes – or, at the very least, why I don’t hang around to find out…