Whilst passing John’s dam early this morning we spotted an adult female hippo whose body was mostly submerged with only her chin resting on the sand. As we were watching the hippo through our binoculars we noticed something small moving next to her right ear. Upon closer inspection to our delight we realised that it was a brand new baby hippo – probably only a few days old!!! A female hippopotamus gives birth to a single calf, about 8 months after mating with a male. A female generally only has one offspring every two years .Newborn hippos are relatively small, weighing from 55 to 120lbs, and are protected by their mothers, not only from crocodiles and lions, but from male hippos that, strangely enough do not bother them on land but only attack them in the water. Hippopotamus calves are born either on land or in shallow water. In water, the mother helps the newborn to the surface, later teaching it to swim. Giving birth in the water helps the mother to conserve her energy and reduces the chances of the young becoming a victim of an animal on land. They generally suckle milk from their mothers while underwater. In the water, young ones are often seen resting their heads, or standing, on an adult’s back, usually their mother’s, because the effort to keep afloat tires them too much. Until a calf is strong enough to walk far, the mother leaves it with other females to babysit when she goes to feed. Young hippos can only stay under the water for about half a minute, but adults can stay submerged for up to 6 minutes. Young hippos can suckle under water by taking a deep breath, closing their nostrils and ears and wrapping their tongue lightly around the teat to suck. This procedure must be instinctive, because newborns suckle the same way on land. A young hippo begins to eat grass at 3 weeks, but its mother continues to suckle it for about a year. My guests noticed a red substance on the skin of the adult female. Many guests have heard the myth that hippos sweat blood. This is untrue. Hippos often bask on the shoreline and secrete an oily red substance. This liquid is actually a skin moistener and sunblock that may also provide protection against germs. Since the mother Hippo often needs to be in water that is too deep for her young, you will see them riding on her back. If she stays in shallow water then the sunlight will be able to dry her skin and to sunburn. While Hippos are known to be highly aggressive and loners, the mothers are very good caregivers. They offer guidance, interaction, and learning so that their young can be strong and healthy as they mature. We look forward to monitoring the progress of our new hippo over the coming months!!!!!!
Sarah-Estelle Sangster-Ranger,Kapama Karula