This week shows that the only constant in the bush is life. We can theorize, deliver an opinion, even try to avoid the tracks on the ground but in the bush we live by the rules Mother Nature lays down for us.
Our hippo pool in the Msine River is getting rather crowded this time of the year, and some two hundred hippos are crammed into a small pool fed by a spring in the river. We often get asked about the inter-relationship between Hippo and Crocodiles, there is a very clear “gentleman’s agreement” that they keep their distance from each other… or so we think. Recent footage on the net showed a croc being killed by hippos after it tried to walk across the backs of the behemoths. However what happens if these two creatures are forced by environmental conditions into each other’s personal space?
I took the Ashton family to hippo lookout and what we saw is hard to understand. There was a trapped crocodile between and on top of the Hippos – they were lying over his tail and hind legs and he couldn’t move. To make matters more interesting there was a tiny calf not too far from the croc. However, the hippo calf possesses an excellent mother that will risk its own life to protect its young. Despite its appearance, the hippo is, believe it or not, much more dangerous than a crocodile. In fact, hippos are arguably responsible for more human deaths each year than crocodiles, lions, and other predators. Although the hippo’s jaws do not possess as much power as a crocodile’s jaws, they are still capable of biting down with great strength with their razor-sharp ivory tusks. After the elephant and the white rhinoceros, the hippo is the third largest land mammal, capable of growing up to 12 feet in length and weighing up to 3 tons. This massive mammal is easily capable of overpowering and killing even large Nile crocodiles, thus keeping its calf safe from the deadly reptiles. As a result, there is sometimes an overbearing tension between both species; hippos must be wary of crocodiles aiming to attack calves, and thus aggression must be carried out on the crocodiles in order to scare the predators away.
Despite these violent cases, there is not always a troubling tension between both species. In fact, both animals can often be seen tolerating each others’ presence in rather unexpected ways. On occasions, mother hippos will actually place their young to rest next to adult Nile crocodiles while the mother goes off to sleep. Interestingly enough, the crocodiles do not attack the calf in these cases. The purpose of this normally risky act is to allow the mother to rest and regain energy while the baby is guarded by the crocodiles, which will react violently to any hungry lions or hyenas that attempt to take or attack the calf (not out of defence for the young hippo, but simply because crocodiles do not tolerate intruders to their territory). In equally odd occasions, some juvenile crocodiles are seen climbing and riding on the backs of hippos. Though the exact reason for this activity is debatable, it could be a method of sunbathing or attaining a free ride (young crocodiles commonly ride on the backs of their parents as hatchlings). Whatever the reason, these cases point to a slightly deeper relationship between the two creatures.
The Hippos didn’t look like they minded the prehistoric lizard in their midst’s, and they were quite relaxed. We watched this for about twenty minutes and then the croc started wriggling, the commotion stirred up the hippos and as they moved it managed to drag itself free. It crossed over the head and eyes of a hippo that very calmly tolerated the intrusion and allowed the croc to scamper free and make its way back to the shore.
Not to forget about our avians I got a lucky snap this week of the Bohm’s bee-eater an uncommon and local resident of thick bush and woodlands preferring river and stream habitats.