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 hippopotamusLimited to very restrict ranges in West Africa, it is a shy, solitary forest dweller and is now rare.

Hippopotamuses love water, which is why the Greeks named them the “river horse.” Hippos spend up to 16 hours a day submerged in rivers and lakes to keep their massive bodies cool under the hot African sun. Hippos are graceful in water, good swimmers, and can hold their breath underwater for up to five minutes. However, they are often large enough to simply walk or stand on the lake floor, or lie in the shallows. Their eyes and nostrils are located high on their heads, which allows them to see and breathe while mostly submerged.

Hippos also bask on the shoreline and secrete an oily red substance, which gave rise to the myth that they sweat blood. The liquid is actually a skin moistener and sunblock that may also provide protection against germs.

Hippos on Land: At sunset, hippopotamuses leave the water and travel overland to graze. They may travel 6 miles in a night, along single-file pathways, to consume some 80 pounds of grass. Considering their enormous size, a hippo’s food intake is relatively low. If threatened on land hippos may run for the water—they can match a human’s speed for short distances.

Reproduction: Hippo calves weigh nearly 100 pounds at birth and can suckle on land or underwater by closing their ears and nostrils. Each female has only one calf every two years. Soon after birth, mother and young join schools that provide some protection against crocodiles, lions, and hyenas.

Trophy: Some of Southern Africa’s professional hunters associations have added the hippopotamus to their list of dangerous game, and rightfully so. The hippo can be extremely aggressive when disturbed and accounts for more human deaths on the African continent than all of the other members of the Big Five. The hippo can be found in many of the rivers and pans of Southern Africa. His sun-sensitive skin keeps him in the water nearly all day and is usually only found away from the water during his nocturnal grazing sessions. His encounters with humans normally occur around sunrise while he is making his way back to water and can often result in a fatality.

Hunting hippo can be a very difficult task. Normally the bulls are hunted as trophies and, as they spend most of their time in the water, identifying the bulls can at best be difficult. The bull’s head will be slightly larger than the cow’s and he will exhibit two not-so-prominent humps on either side of his nose where his large lower tusks fit into his upper jaw. When hunting hippo, by all means use enough rifle, and when hunted in the water, as described, your shot placement must be dead-on. The triangular indentation just above the eyes is your aim point and a shot placed here will penetrate the brain and anchor this large “water horse”. From the side, aim just below the ear. The hippo will sink beneath the water, but float back to the surface within about an hour or so, making his recovery possible. Use extreme caution here, as where you find hippo, you will almost be sure to find the Nile crocodile as well. Sight your rifle in dead-on; your shot must be made with pinpoint accuracy.

The hippo can also be hunted on land and, make no mistake, hunting hippo in this manner can be terrifically exciting. A hippo bull disturbed on the land or in a small pan can become frightfully aggressive. Approach this big fellow with extreme caution and be ready for a charge. Rely only on large caliber rifles with solid bullets for this job. As always, the .375 should be considered as the minimum caliber, but consider one of the 40 calibers or even larger in a double rifle if at all possible. A well-placed shot on the shoulder will anchor one of these big animals if you have used sufficient gun; in a charge, the brain shot will be your only guarantee of stopping the beast.