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World Hippo Day 2024: February 15th

World Hippo Day is celebrated on 15 February every year to raise awareness about the plight of hippos, which are one of the most endangered large mammals on the planet. Today, the hippo population is estimated to be between 115,000 and 130,000, with the decline being attributed to poaching, loss of access to fresh water, mechanised farming, and urbanisation.

The Mighty Hippo: A Semiaquatic Wonder

Hippos are semiaquatic mammals, native to sub-Saharan Africa, and weigh up to 2,000 kg, making them the third-largest land mammal after elephants and rhinos. They are mostly found in rivers, lakes, and mangrove swamps, and have adapted to a semiaquatic lifestyle. Their diet consists mostly of leaves, roots, and stems, supported by a robust digestive system that is adapted to conserve nutrients.

Evolutionary History of Hippos

The history of the hippo dates back to 54 million years ago, when the first group of hippos, ancestors of the modern hippo, broke up into two branches. One branch, which includes whales and dolphins, evolved to become aquatic cetaceans, while the other branch became anthracotheres, a close ancestor of the common hippo. After the Pliocene Epoch (over two million years ago), all branches of the anthracotheres went extinct, except for those that evolved into Hiromoletamidae.

Attempts at Hippo Introduction

In the 20th century, attempts were made to introduce hippos into the US. The “American Hippo Bill”, raised in 1910, proposed introducing hippo ranching in Louisiana, not only to help control a particular plant that was taking over the bayous but also to address the American meat crisis. However, the bill didn’t quite make it through Congress, and so hippos remained in their native Africa until the 1980s when the infamous drug cartel leader Pablo Escobar (illegally) imported four hippos and took them to his estate in Columbia. Their numbers have increased dramatically since, perhaps to as many as 100!

Conservation Efforts and Challenges

World Hippo Day is an opportunity to raise awareness about the threats faced by the hippo and promote conservation efforts to protect this endangered species. The day also serves as a reminder of the importance of protecting ecosystems, as hippos play a vital role in nutrient cycling and seed dispersal in rivers and lakes. In Africa, on the other hand, hippo numbers are sadly declining. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed them as a vulnerable species in 2006 after establishing that the hippo population had declined by as much as 20% within the previous two decades. Drought has led to habitat loss, and the hunting and poaching of hippos, both for their meat and ivory teeth, is also a major threat.

Celebrating the Importance of Hippos

World Hippo Day reminds us to celebrate and value these mud-loving mammals, in the hope that they’ll be around for many more years to come. By taking action against hippo extinction, we can help to ensure the continued survival of this unique mammal for future generations. Experts believe that the modern-day hippo evolved in Africa around 8 million years ago. While they bear a resemblance to horses and pigs, these semi-aquatic mammals are in fact most closely related to whales, dolphins, and porpoises – no wonder they’re so good at holding their breath underwater! Hippos are now most common in countries such as Zambia and Tanzania.


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