The hippo is now mostly
confined to protected areas

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Conservation Status:


  • Native to 29 African countries
  • Hippos often weigh only 55 pounds when born
  • More than 95% of population lost in DRC

Quick Facts

Scientific name

Hippopotamus amphibius


Up to 3.5 tn.


13-ft. long and 5-ft. tall

Life span

50 years


Rivers and swamps




About 8 months


Humans, lions, crocodiles


Where do hippopotamuses live?

Two hippo species are found in Africa. The large hippo, found in East Africa, occurs south of the Sahara. The other, much smaller (440 to 605 pounds) species of hippo is the pygmy hippopotamus. Limited to very restricted ranges in West Africa, it is a shy, solitary forest dweller and is now rare.

Tags: Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, DRC, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, East Africa, Southern Africa, West/Central Africa, Kazungula, Samburu, Cameroon, Hippopotamus View Africa | Habitat

Physical Characteristics

What is a hippo?

Hippos are the third-largest living land mammals, after elephants and white rhinos. A hippo’s foot has four webbed toes that splay out to distribute weight evenly and, therefore, adequately support it on land. The grayish body has very thick skin that is virtually hairless. The hippo has neither sweat nor sebaceous glands, relying on water or mud to keep cool. It does, however, secrete a viscous red fluid, which protects the animal’s skin against the sun and is possibly a healing agent. The hippo’s flat, paddle-like tail is used to spread excrement, which marks territory borders and indicates the status of an individual.

Behavior & Diet

The surprisingly agile hippo climbs steep banks each night to graze on grass.

Hippos leave the water at night to graze for four to five hours, covering up to 5 miles of territory. They will eat about 80 pounds of food during this time. The hippo’s modest appetite is due to its sedentary life, which does not require high outputs of energy.

Unlike us, the hippopotamus does not have sweat or sebaceous glands.

Hippos must rely on water or mud to keep cool—this accounts for the amount of time it spends in the water. They do, however, secrete a viscous red fluid, which protects the animal’s skin against the sun and possibly acts as a healing agent.

Their social structures are dependent on food and water conditions.

Hippos have a flexible social system. They are usually found in mixed groups of about 15 individuals held by a territorial bull, but in periods of drought, large numbers are forced to congregate near limited pools of water. This overcrowding disrupts the hierarchical system, resulting in even higher levels of aggression, with the oldest and strongest males asserting dominance. Old scars and fresh, deep wounds are signs of daily fights.

  • Hippo Freak Out
  • Hippo Billy Dodson
  • Hippo Joe Dodson
  • Hippo Billy Dodson
  • Hippo Joe Dodson
  • Cameroon Jef Dupain

Hippo populations are threatened by hunting.

Hundreds of hippos are shot each year to minimize human-wildlife conflict, despite the fact that ditches or low fences easily deter hippos. It is more likely that the popularity of hippo meat is the reason for this strategy. Hippo fat and ivory tusks are also valuable to humans.

Humans are pushing hippos out of their habitats.

As human populations grow, they encroach on wildlife habitats as they build new settlements, increase agricultural production, and construct new roads. The hippo once ranged from the Nile Delta to the Cape, but now it is mostly confined to protected areas.


Our solutions to conserving the hippo: 

  • Engage communities.

    African Wildlife Foundation helps communities construct enclosures, fences, and ditches to protect agriculture and farmland from grazing hippos, thereby minimizing human-wildlife conflict.

  • Create protected spaces.

    We strengthen and protect the hippo’s habitat by providing funding and improving infrastructures of parks, such as the Lower Zambezi National Park. Located along the Zambezi River, Lower Zambezi National Park is a critical habitat for hippos, elephants, African wild dogs, cheetahs, and more. AWF worked with Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) to provide security and facilities to the park. These developments allow for increased tourism and increased economic potential for the community.


Will you show hippos your support?

With your help, AWF can work on projects like building enclosures to minimize human-wildlife conflict and creating protected spaces and parks. Donate for a cause that will help with wildlife conservation and ensure the hippo does not become an endangered species. 

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