Hippo encounters and our education about them were some of my favorite, though sometimes a bit harrowing, animal experiences on our recent African trip. At Kafue National Park, I would arouse early in the morning to the tune of Hippo “chatter,” their calls to one another. Our cabin was right on the water and their proximity to us was astounding to me.
Hippos have very sensitive skin so they mostly stay in the water to avoid exposure to the sun. But at night they come on land to feed on grasses and will consume enough to last themselves three or four days in the water before returning to feed again. However, they have very poor eyesight and sometimes get disoriented on land. The hippo calls I heard in early morning are one way hippos in the water help hippos stranded on land to find their way back to the water.
Once on a river trip, we unwittingly strayed into a hippo’s space. He was not happy with us! He followed the boat, rearing up over and over and splashing down in the water, essentially chasing us away. No worries! Our guide got us out of there pronto!
Our last morning at Kafue, we were about to walk to breakfast when we discovered a sleeping hippo had parked himself right at our front door. Yikes! Hippos are known to be extremely dangerous and we were not about to rouse him. We had been told to never approach animals, to return to our cabin immediately if we came across any in our path. What to do?! We learned later that we had an airhorn by our bedside to call for help. But I finally was able to get the attention of the cleaners at the cabin next door. To our astonishment, the staff person who came over gave the hippo a few whacks on his back, gave him a shove with his foot and the hippo proceeded to move maybe 6 feet, laid back down and went right back to sleep. Our rescuer smiled and said, “Oh he is one of our residents,” a hippo who frequently makes himself at home there without incident.
Later that morning, I was sitting on the deck while Terry was at the office paying our bill. I heard a big splash in the water and knew it was “our” hippo. I grabbed my phone and walked down the steps, while maintaining a safe distance, to catch a photograph. He put on quite a show for me, dipping down in the water, rolling over (at least as much as a hippo can roll), and opening his mouth very wide. His display simply felt a little like a friendly communication, maybe “Come back soon. We’ll miss you.” I miss them, too. Waking to the melody of their hippo calls was a gift I cherish from our trip.
Hope’s Café Bonus: Who knows where early morning thoughts come from but I woke up thinking about the comic strip “Pogo,” the iconic comic by Walt Kelly published from 1948 to 1975. Kelly briefly used one human character in his strip but found animals much more adaptable to comics. I am reminded of when I saw children in therapy. I always had animal figures because often children could more easily express feelings through the use of them. We are enriched by animals in so many ways. I was heartened to learn that efforts to reduce poaching have been increased in Zambia and other African countries.