Hippos

 Posted by  Africa 2017, Travel
Nov 282017
 

What do you do when you have hundreds of photos of hippos?

That’s not a joke. I’m asking.

Here’s what I’m doing with a few of them. Yes, Mike, just a few. You’re welcome, everyone else.

Hippo Habitat

Hippo habitat, Khwai River, Botswana

This is the Khwai River. It comes off the Okavango River and forms part of the northern border of Moremi Game Reserve. It’s not a very big river, at lease not here, but it seems like a good and reliable water source.

You can camp here in a community-operated campground, in actual designated campsites, but there are no amenities. We stayed here three years ago, but only for one night. I would stay here again for several nights, but I’m not sure it’s on the agenda this time around.

Hipposphere

Hippo, zebras, waterbucks, egret, Khwai River, Botswana

According to one source, hippos are the third largest land mammals, with elephants and rhinos out-sizing them. However, another source counts giraffes as larger than hippos. I’ll just say they’re enormous.

Multi-species photo: Hippo, egret, waterbucks, zebras

Hippo Hero

As in the hero of our tale.

Model hippo on land, Khwai River, Botswana

“Hippopotamus” comes from the ancient Greek for “river horse.” The Greek adjective follows the noun, though, so it’s “hippo” that means “horse,” not “potamus.”

River, yes. Horse? Hmm . . . I don’t think so, ancient Greeks.

More like τελμα λουκανικο, or telma loukaniko, or telmaloukaniko. According to Google Translate, that’s “swamp sausage” in Greek! Although, technically, I think it would be λουκανικο τελμα.

Howling Hippos

Hippo hollering at no one, Khwai River, Botswana

Okay, probably not howling. Singing opera, perhaps. Actually, I don’t know if this one is vocalizing at all; it very well might be standing there with its mouth open. They do that. Apparently, facing another hippo with your mouth open is a sign of submission. (So I’m likely to be seen as no threat when I get face-to-face with a hippo, right?)

But perhaps I should point out that this one isn’t facing anyone. It might be looking at us, or not. It is walking from Pool A to Pool B.

Open-mouthed hippos, Khwai River, Botswana

I’m unclear what constitutes an aggressive yawn and what constitutes a submissive open mouth.

Hippos sparring, Khwai River, Botswana

These two definitely seem to be sparring.

Hippo Hissyfit

Hippopotamus scooping water, Khwai River, Botswana

“Water scooping” is another common behavior that is said to be an aggressive display.

Hippo water scooping, Khwai River, Botswana

That’s a big scoop splash! Is this an exceptionally grumpy hippo?

A Fine Hippo How-Do-You-Do?

It started like this:

Two hippos traversing land, Khwai River, Botswana

Two pals strolling along . . . or so it seems

A Tale of Two Hippos turns into A Tail of One and A Tale of Woe.

See if you can make out what’s happening before I explain. Mike got a series of still photos, and I managed to make a bad (but mercifully short) video. In my defense, I was filming something else and had to swing over to this action while something else entirely was also screaming for my attention. Seriously, three things happening at once. It’s a wonder I got anything at all.

The still photos:

Hippo dung showering, Khwai River, Botswana

Can you see what’s happening here?

Fifteen-second video of the same, which you can see full-screen on YouTube.

Want to be a hippo?

Scientists have decided to call this “dung showering.” We have to call it something because it’s a common behavior. That’s right, everybody’s doing it, on land and in the water; although, not always in someone’s face. Sometimes they shower in solitude. Some people report watching two bulls standing head to tail do this to one another, and others have witnessed territorial males meet at a shared border and exchange excrement.

As always when it comes to animal behavior, we can only theorize about why hippos do this, but let’s do that, okay?*

  • to demonstrate dominance
  • to mark territory or announce one’s presence
  • because hippos that did this survived, and hippos that didn’t do this died
  • freedom of expression through exterior design

Hushed Hippos

Hippos resting peacefully, Khwai River, Botswana

All quiet on the hippo front. Huh. This may be the most rare sighting—and photo—of the lot.

*I might be joking about one of these.

Nov 242017
 

Our second day trip from the Maun homestead was to the Khwai River. We headed out toward the South Gate road, on the horrible, headache-inducing corrugated and soft-sand road, but went right at the Y instead of left and then continued on a good deal farther.

Getting There

Our first wildlife sighting was a parade of 13 elephants, marching one-by-one across the road, with the tiniest calf smack dab in the center of the procession.

African elephant crossing sand road, Botswana

Elephant crossing

As a species, African elephants are classified as vulnerable, with their numbers increasing. In this particular area, though, they are abundant. When we’re not seeing elephants, we often see elephant signs, like broken trees and tree crumbs strewn across the ground.

African elephant and broken tree, Botswana

Elephant and elephantized tree

When we were here three years ago, I marveled at surviving 4.5 months and I-don’t-know-how-many thousands of miles on rough roads and rocky/sandy non-roads without getting a single flat tire.

This time around, we didn’t survive two relatively easy out-of-town drives. The main sand road is rough, to be sure, but it’s sand. And the flat occurred after backing up in soft sand to look at an elephant.

Flat tire in Africa

Mike gets to work changing the flat

Thankfully, Mike is a champion tire-changer. If you ever drive with him up the AlCan or across the Lower 48 or around Alaska, he can and will point out the many places he’s had a flat. He’s done a lot of driving, and often on less-than-ideal American tires. African tires, by the way, are a cut above American tires, built to withstand extreme heat and tough road conditions. Notice, too, that there are two spares on this safari vehicle.

Now, don’t go thinking I didn’t help. Who do you think took the picture? And who do you think was watching out for lions and leopards? That’s right. I had an important job to do, too.

With two spare tires, we didn’t hesitate to continue on.

And then there were . . .

Waterbucks, Botswana

Waterbucks, the shaggy antelopes

. . . waterbucks, which are the peaceful, long-haired hippie antelopes.

A bit farther down the road, we came across this:

Dead elephant along the road, whole

What is that?

This thing was close enough to catch our eyes and be clearly visible without binoculars, but far enough away that we didn’t immediately know what it was. My first thought was that it was a giant gray rock, but there were no other such rocks around. “Is that a dead elephant?” I asked. “I think so,” Mike answered.

Further scrutiny confirmed that notion.

Dead elephant, head labeled

Can you make it out now?

Oh, how I wanted to walk over and get a good look. The skin and bones looked desiccated, so it wasn’t a fresh death or kill, but it was just far enough away, and there were just enough trees and brush around, that we didn’t feel completely comfortable walking away from the truck. (Lions and leopards, y’all. Remember?) I know there’s not a lion under every bush or a leopard in every tree. I walk around in the AK Bush where there are bears. But still. We didn’t go.

Now, if Ali and Mark had been there and thought it was okay, I’d have been out there in a heartbeat. Without running, of course. Whatever you do, don’t run. But we played it safe and enjoyed the view we had.

Just down the road, the stench confirmed again our conclusion, if you harbor any doubts.

A Certain Spot on the Khwai River

Soon, we arrived at our destination: a particular stretch of the Khwai River, which is a smallish river. Here, we found lovely scenery and a variety of wildlife.

Multi-species scene in Botswana, zebras, waterbucks, wildebeest

Lovely scenery and mingling species

Multi-species photos are quintessential Africa to me. Maybe you can make them out, or not, but this group is comprised of zebras, wildebeest, and waterbucks, with an egret in the foreground. And that’s just the background of the scene.

In the foreground, we have . . .

Hippos, Khwai River, Botswana

Hippos doing what hippos do

swamp sausages! Also known as hippos, or maybe hippopotami.

Enormous (up to 13 feet long, 5 feet tall, and weighing 3.5 tons), cranky, and fierce as they are rumored to be, they crack me up. The my-mouth-opens-wider-than-your-mouth posturing is awfully silly, don’t you think?

Twice as we watched the hippos, something somewhere startled the smaller, more distant ungulates. (Hippos are ungulates, too.) Several impala and a single lechwe charged right past us in their panic.

Impala individual, Botswana

Look at that skinny neck and head!

All right, this one’s not charging in this particular moment.

While we watched the hippos and enjoyed lunch, Mike considered reminding me of the close encounter we had three years ago with an elephant right on the curve ahead of us. Before he got the words out, though, an elephant strolled up, not too far in front of our parked truck. Do you suppose it’s the same one?!

Elephant drinking at the Khwai River

She dumps out the water from the top of her trunk

She just wanted a drink. Between each squirt-gulp, she dumped the last bit of water from her trunk. You know, like dumping remains from the bottom of the glass. It makes sense to me: Who wants to drink the water that’s been way up in your nose?

We pulled ahead to the next bend in the river, leaving this lovely lady to do her thing. When we turned around to leave not long afterward, we might have had another close encounter, but we spotted Ms. Ellie browsing on the road and took a detour.

One the way out to the main (awful) sand road, we passed an impala nursery and a few female kudu.

Impala nursery, Botswana

Nursery charges in front, adult supervisors in back

Kudu at the Khwai River, Botswana

Female kudu. See the frosting drips down her back?

On the Way Home

The bumpy ride home continued to offer up wildlife sightings.

Bateleur, Botswana

A bateleur, a medium-sized eagle

First there was a bateleur, which is a nicely colorful, medium-sized eagle. It’s endemic to Africa and parts of Arabia. Its French name translates to “street performer,” which I haven’t yet connected to any behavior. In fact, this is the first time I’ve had a decent view of one.

Ground hornbill, Botswana

Ground hornbills dining on something dead

At first, I thought these ground hornbills might be doing a sort of mating dance, but it seems they are merely eating. If bateleurs are street performers, then ground hornbills are dinner-theater performers.

Warthog, Botswana

A warthog who opted for whiskers over tusks

Then we spied our first-for-this-visit warthog. The tusks are less than impressive, but those sideburn whiskers more than compensate.

Roan antelope, Botswana

Roan, ready for action

And, finally, we drove past several special antelopes. They’re special because we saw them only a couple of times during our last visit. I recognized them immediately, but couldn’t get through the detritus in my brain to say their name. So I just bounced in my seat, flapped my hands, pointed, and said “eh-eh-eh.” Mike caught a glimpse, and in his excitement rattled off the antelope names on his mental list, top to bottom.

“Kudu!”

“No!”

“Gemsbok! (Say “hemsbok.”)

“No!”

And, then, just in time to prevent my head exploding and my hands flying off and out the window, he came up with “Roan!”

“YES!”

Beautiful roan antelope.

Roan, the superhero antelope

Roan are the superhero antelope. See their superhero, identity-hiding masks? And then there are those ears. Those gigantic ears! Those are another superhero feature. Roan have super hearing, and I’m pretty sure they can fly with those things.

And in Summary . . .

The flat tire was a bummer, and that shortened our time with the hippos, but what a day!

I call hippos “swamp sausages” because that’s what they look like on land. More on that soon. What nicknames come to your mind for any of these animals here?