Botswana Grunts and Groans

Hippo with Ocpeckers, Botswana

Hippo Heads Back to Water at Dawn


One of our party often read aloud as we lounged during our afternoon siestas, “Hippos chortle, like old men reading pornography”. The description stuck, particularly so in the evening, when they’d utter long and loud bellows we’d smile, and say, “Must have been a good one.” Hippos in some parts of Africa get lost in the shuffle to claim time with so many charismatic mammals. I remember them in Lake Baringo, in Kenya and I’ve always been wary of them. But here they occurred daily, and their sounds in particular were much a part of our stay. In Botswana, with so many hippos stuffed into the abundant wetland areas, they become signatures of the experience. . We saw them grouped up in deeper water holes, eight or ten at a time, rotund and tiny, small eyes and large. We saw them solo, hanging on to water levels that would soon leave them dry, needing to wander. We tried to time photos of them with their whale-like soundings, tried to frame sunset shots over their protruding snouts, tried to identify oxpeckers dining on their attendant leeches. On two occasions we glimpsed them out of the water near our camp and it seemed improbable that they could support such bulk without the support of water. Not only could they, but we found them fast and agile. It seems that hippos wilt in the sun and seek water mainly for thermoregulation. A sunburned hippo is not a pretty concept. Pat wanted to see the way they excrete dung like a whirling fan. We heard tales of them taking out boats that came too close upon their territories. Our final camp in southern Moremi National Park was next to a large wetland. I savor that camp and the good sleep that comes only when one is relaxed, a sleep that lets you wake, drift a bit on your sense and return to sleep again. I’ll never forget waking to the combination of an almost full moon, and the sound of fanciful, sexual, chortling hippos.

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