Most of us envision huge African elephants or aggressive lions as the deadliest species in Africa. Yet other than disease-carrying or crop-destroying insects, the most deadly beast in Africa is the hippopotamus.
Hippos are large -- only the elephant and white rhinoceros outsize the hippo among land-dwelling mammals [source: American Wildlife Foundation]. The average hippo is about 11 feet (3.35 meters) long and 5 feet (1.52 meters) tall at its shoulder. It's as heavy as it looks -- weighing in at 7,000 pounds (3,175 kilograms) on average [source: LA Natural History Museum]. What's surprising is that the large, lumbering creatures that live mostly alongside lakes and rivers are so agile. They can climb steep banks, walk long distances and mover around on land and in water.
One reason the hippo moves about so much is to find food. Hippos may be deadly and, well, overweight, but they're vegetarians. They eat grass and other available vegetation, and although they can get around, they're mostly sedentary.
The hippo is an aggressive, territorial creature, so what is it that gets an otherwise inactive riled up and causes him or her to attack? They generally live in herds of about 15 to 40 animals. The number and the hierarchy within a herd vary depending on water availability, so when there are too many hippos crowded around too little water, they get more aggressive. The older and stronger male animals dominate the most.
Hippos are involved in more human fatalities than any other species in Africa, including crocodiles. And no wonder, because humans are really their biggest predators and threats. Their ivory tusks, teeth and fat are attractive to hunters, and some are shot in the name of "controlled management." It is difficult to find accurate numbers on hippo-related human deaths, but economics drive poachers who want to sell ivory and other products from hippos. The family-protective hippos react to human intrusion by nature, so it's likely that local lore regarding hippos as the most dangerous species is accurate.
Despite their ungainly appearance, hippos can run at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour). They have large tusks and are extremely powerful. Hippos are considered vulnerable, but not endangered, because many live in game parks and other controlled environments. If left alone, the typical hippo can live for about 40 years [source: Raffaelle].
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