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River Horses

April 30, 2014

River Horses

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Julie Larsen Maher Julie Larsen Maher

Hippopotamuses —derived from the Greek words for “river horses”—are herbivores that live most of their lives in water. During evening feeding rituals, they break for the banks. My camp is along their route to the grassy glades. Their big bellies brush my tent’s borders as they pass by.

Waterfront real estate has high value, especially to male hippos in need of a length of riverbank to establish mating territories. Setting up squatter’s rights can result in fierce battles as they bellow and bare their huge canine teeth. I pay heed to the hippos’ space and take photos from a reverential distance.

Despite their reputation for bad tempers, hippos are not their own worst enemy. Illegal and unregulated hunting for their meat and teeth (a source of ivory for export) has landed one of the world’s largest land mammals on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species with “Vulnerable” status.

Nikon D3


Luangwa River, Zambia Map It

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6 comments

Lisa Jaycox
April 30, 2014 at 1:37 pm

What a picture! Thanks for sharing your experiences in Zambia, Julie. I can imagine how loud my heart would be thumping, hearing hippo bellies brush past my tent…

Craig Piper
May 2, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Great action shot Julie. One of my favorite species photographed in one of my favorite places to hang out with hippos – the Luangwa River.

Jan Kaderly
May 7, 2014 at 11:08 am

Now this is something I have never appreciated: a hippos teeth. Truly bizarre. They seem randomly placed on the upper gum and the lower “tusks” are huge. Its always hard to tell on a photo, how large do they get?

Julie Larsen Maher
May 12, 2014 at 9:39 pm

Hippos’ canine teeth grow to 20 inches in length. They use their teeth for many things from feeding to fighting. Unfortunately, the size of their teeth makes them a target for the ivory trade like African elephants.

Kristen Avery
May 13, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Where are the biggest populations of hippos located besides Zambia?

Julie Larsen Maher
May 15, 2014 at 12:12 pm

In addition to Zambia, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists several other Eastern African countries that have the largest numbers of common hippos including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique. They form the conservation stronghold for this species. Of the 29 countries in which hippos are found, confirmed population declines have been reported in half.