On Safari in East Africa: Hippos

We had a spectacular month exploring East Africa – a real dream come true and centerpiece of our trip. It was awe-inspiring to see first hand in the wild what we had only seen in zoos. Handpicking the best of the best of the thousands of photos we took, the On Safari in East Africa series showcases the animals we were privileged to see in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.


One of the scariest moments all year was the night we heard a hippo munching grass right outside our tent. Mind you – camping in Africa was a great adventure and it was awesome to hear wildlife at night. Unique bird, insect and animal noises we’d never heard before – and totally different in each new place we went. But this was not a noise I wanted to hear. Hippos are one of the most dangerous animals in Africa! That night we were camping near a river with tons of hippos, and given that they feed nocturnally, we could expect them to be grazing on the grass around us.

In these situations, you really don’t want to have to get up to go to the bathroom in the dark. If we did have to go and we saw a hippo we were told to not make a sound, don’t panic, keep the light of your headlamp on the animal and move slowly – backwards – back to your tent. It’s noise that will really upset them, so when I awoke to hearing a huge munching sound right outside our tent I was so panicked I froze, barely breathing so as to not make a sound. I also heard the distinct sounds that hippos make so I was convinced that the animal was indeed a hippo. I heard it munching on the right of the tent, then to the left…this continued for a couple of very long hours until it finally walked away.

Hippos are violent! One day, while on a river cruise in Uganda, we saw two hippos fighting right in front of us. You could see the power of these massive animals splashing and biting each other in the water. The photo on the right shows blood where one was bitten.

Hippos spend most of their days in water to keep cool under the hot African sun. Their eyes and nostrils are high on their heads, allowing them to see and breathe while mostly submerged.

This cute little hippo by the shore with its mother is around three months old. Baby hippos are born underwater and have to swim to the surface to take their first breaths.


Hippos are quite agile. They can easily climb steep riverbanks at night and travel several miles to graze before returning to the water. They prefer to eat alone and can eat around 150 pounds of grass each night.