No African landscape is complete without the hippo, wallowing in the warm shallows of the river by day - the very picture of peace and contentment - and grazing on the plains at night.
Africa’s ‘river horses’ wallow by day and graze at night. Living in herds with a dominant male in charge, these placid-looking beasts are in fact extremely aggressive - more dangerous than crocodiles. They use their fearsome tusks for defence and fighting - but are vegetarians and can consume up to 35kg of grass a day, often ranging many miles from the water on moonlit nights.
It is interesting to sit and watch a group of hippos at rest in the water - especially if one has a view from the top of a tall bank. I watched once from the banks of the Sabi river as two young bulls chased each other from one end of a pool to another in a swift-moving underwater ballet.
The little pink-and-grey babies take refuge as close to mother as possible in these cases, sometimes climbing half out of the water onto her back.
Hippos communicate with a deep, snorting chuckle; one of my favourite sounds in Africa.
An amusing legend tells how the hippo begged the Creator to be allowed to live in the river - but the Creator was concerned that such a large animal might eat all the fish. So He made the hippo promise to eat only grass and to scatter its dung in full view on the river bank - so that He could check that there were no fish bones.