The hippopotamus, commonly referred to as the hippo, is one of Earth’s largest land mammals. These mammals are native to sub-Saharan Africa, and because they spend most of their time in the water, patient travelers are lucky to observe them emerge while on safari. Below we outline 10 fun facts about these giant animals to bring with you on your upcoming safari.

1. The word ‘hippopotamus’ is Greek for ‘water horse’ or ‘horse of the river.’ However, hippos and horses are not closely related, and the closest relatives to hippos are actually cetaceans, including whales, dolphins, and porpoises. 

2. There are 2 species of hippos: the common hippopotamus and the pygmy hippo. While the common hippo has webbed feet, the pygmy hippos have separated toes with sharp nails. Pygmy hippos are much smaller than the common hippo, and they are mainly found in parts of West Africa. 

3. Contrary to popular belief, hippos do not actually swim! A hippo’s fat makes them buoyant, which allows them to walk underwater. 

4. Don’t let their short legs and stocky appearance fool you – hippos can outrun humans and have been observed running at speeds over 30 miles per hour. 

5. Hippos can hold their breath underwater for up to 5 minutes, and they usually resurface every 3 to 5 minutes to breathe. While they sleep at night, they automatically resurface to breathe without waking up!

6. While hippos are known for spending 16 hours per day in the water, they graze for food on land. They eat almost 88 pounds of grass per day to maintain their impressive figure. Hippos are normally thought to be herbivores, but recent studies suggest that these mammals will sometimes feast on meat.

7. To protect themselves from bacteria and the sun’s powerful rays, hippos secrete a red substance that is often mistaken for blood. This fluid acts as a sunscreen and a topical antibiotic, which keeps their bodies cool and protected.

8. Hippos play a critical role in supporting the ecosystems of lakes and rivers. As they move between water and land, hippos create new channels and spread important nutrients that cultivate habitats and shelters. 

9. These mammals are very social and usually stay in groups ranging from 10 to 30 members. There are several names to describe a group of hippos, which include bloats, herds, and pods. 

10. There are many places to have close encounters with hippos while on safari. For those visiting the Ngorongoro Crater, Adumu Safaris can arrange a picnic lunch on the crater floor, where you can observe hippos grazing for food and wading through water. Hippos also congregate in the Rufiji River in the Selous Game Reserve, and you may even see them basking on a riverbank.