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Hippo bippo!

Cartoon: A Happy Hippo CoupleToday we’re going to talk about hippos, mainly because they’re my favourite animal. Hippos live in Africa, and are the third largest land mammal in the world (behind elephants and rhinos). Their closest relatives are not (as you may assume) the rhino and the pig, but porpoises and dolphins, although when I say close I still mean really very distant. If you go back through your family history, the last common ancestor you have with your cousin is your grandparents, so the last common ancestor between two species is the last animal that both species evolved from). The last common ancestor of the hippos with the porpoises and dolphins lived about 50 million years ago!

Hippo poaching (illegal hunting) is not as widely known about as rhino or elephant poaching, but sadly hippos are victims too. Rhinos are hunted for their horns to make ornaments and types of alternative medicine (this is highly illegal), elephants for their tusks which are made of a substance called ivory – it is illegal to buy and sell new ivory or to move it from country to country, but it still happens. Hippos are mainly poached for meat or for their teeth for use as an ivory substitute. This poaching has caused a big drop in the number of hippos in the wild.

We here at the blog are not happy about this.  There are many reasons why not, but in the past 10 years hippos have been declared a vulnerable species, and with loss of habitat, poaching and climate change, ALL the African megafauna (large animals, the kind of things you think of when someone says safari to you) need our help – no ornament is pretty enough to be worth making a species extinct for, and if the trade in hippo teeth is not stopped, then it is realistic that one day there will be no hippos left.

Let’s end on a happy note with some hippo facts.  Hippos like to live in rivers and can hold their breath underwater for 5 minutes. Their latin name (all species of animal, plant, bacteria, virus etc has their own latin name), Hippotamus amphibious, means “river horse” in ancient Greek (yes I know I said latin). A group of hippos is called a school. Hippos also have a “symbiotic” relationship (this means that both animals work together to help each other) with oxpecker birds – the oxpecker lives on the hippos back and eats insects off him, this gives the birds an easy meal and stops the hippo being bitten by annoying insects who may carry diseases. How cool is that!


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Blog post by Linda Seward of Seward Technical Writing, providers of original science content.

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