Skip to main content

Being able to see a dale of hippopotamuses while on a safari is an absolute joy. At first look, hippos look very calm and docile yet they are the exact opposite and very dangerous animals.

Since hippos hibernate and sleep during the daytime in water, it is very easy to go to the river or lake and find them going about their day. However, the more you learn about hippos, the more you realize how much you need to respect them and honestly keep a very safe distance.

According to statistics about Human-Wildlife conflict casualties, hippos kill an average of 450 to 500 people every year in Africa. These are mostly people who live near their habitat places and use the same lakes and rivers for activities such as fishing - sometimes, poaching.

This alone makes the hippos more dangerous than big cat predators such as lions and leopards.

Why Are Hippos Dangerous?

hippos open mouth

If you tell someone that a hippo is the most dangerous animal in the African savannah, their next question is always "why?". Everyone would expect animals such as lions, crocodiles, and other carnivores but not the hippo.

The hippopotamus is very dangerous because of its unpredictable and volatile temper. A hippo will be calm one minute and dangerous the next minute. There is no formula for what agitates a hippo and what it will do with that anger.

This is why you should never be tempted to get so close to the hippos while you are on safari. The tempting selfie with yawning hippos in the background is insanely appealing but hippos don't play around.

How Do Hippos Kill Humans And Other Animals?

Hippos have one tool in their arsenal and that is their sharp incisors and canines. Whether it is a human, a crocodile, or a lion, the hippo will use its sharp teeth to crush any opponent to death in one go.

yawning hippo

The mouth of the hippopotamus can open up to an angle of 150 degrees. The canines of a hippo can grow up to 50 cm while the incisors grow to around 40 cm.

These pairs of teeth regularly rub on each other and thus always stay sharp.

Hippos also have an incredible bite force of around 1800 pounds per square inch (PSI). This is almost three times that of a lion (650 PSI) and about 15 times the average human bite force of 126 PSI. In short, hippos bite hard.

When you combine the incredible capabilities of the hippo's mouth to open so wide, its strong sharp teeth, and staggering biteforce it is not surprising that no animal (including humans) should mess with the hippo.

There is no information on how fast a hippo could kill a human but given the power of the bite and the teeth digging into the flesh, we can guess that the only way to survive more than a few minutes is if major organs are safe. Most people don't make it from a hippo attack, but those who do often lose their arms or legs as they instantly get dismembered. 

Without going into gory details, only the luckiest of people will survive to even be given first aid. You can look online for some documented accounts by survivors of a hippo attack, but you should know it is gory [and probably not great to put in your head].

As someone who is planning to see these animals in the wild, you should have a lot of confidence in your safety because very few attacks have happened to tourists. This is because trained professional rangers and guides understand the hippos and follow strict guidelines intended for everyone's safety. As long as you follow their guidance, you will be able to see hippos in the wild - safely.

hippo skull with sharp teeth

The sharp teeth of a hippo are not in any way helpful in feeding. They are built, for one thing, to be weapons used in fighting. The hippo is therefore always armed to the teeth.

Related article: Bite force of African safari animals

Do Other Animals Kill Hippos?

The only threat to an adult hippo is usually humans through actions such as poaching and encroaching on its habitat. Young hippos might face a threat from predators such as crocodiles or lions but that is as far as it could go. Due to their size and aggressiveness, hippos are very capable of fending off any predators.

Hippo Vs Lion. Do Hippos & Lions Fight?

Hippos and lions will rarely get into a fighting situation. This is because the hippo has enough power to kill a lion with just one bite, and so the lion knows better.

Another reason is that hippos live in places with both grazing grass and water, which is also a good home for many smaller less dangerous animals and therefore the lion never needs to go after tougher prey in a hippo.

hippo vs lion

Hippos also spend much of their day in the water and feed throughout the night while lions are not exactly nocturnal hunters. This is why you shouldn't expect to see a lion and a hippo fighting, but if you do you will have encountered one rare aspect of the African savannah and you should fully enjoy the experience.

When several lions work together, they can attack a hippo and pose a real threat that no single lion can muster on its own.

Related article: 16 fascinating facts to know about lions

Can A Hippo Kill A Crocodile?

hippo vs croc

Since both hippos and crocodiles share the water most of the time, they fight quite often. Crocodiles are no match for the strength of an adult hippo but often attach and kill the young ones.

A crocodile is relentless and will often inflict some painful injury before the hippo can impale it with those sharp teeth. While the crocodile bites harder than a hippo, a hippo is huge and its bite comes with very sharp very tall incisors.

It would be an epic fight if you were to observe an equally matched hippo and Nile crocodile fight.

Related article: Interesting facts about Nile crocdiles

Hippo Vs Elephant. Can Hippos Beat Elephants?

hippo vs elephant

Hippos and elephants will very rarely get to fight. Elephants are generally given way by most animals and they don't start fights. 

The elephant's massive size and extremely dexterous trunk give it a huge advantage over the hippopotamus - and any other animal for that matter.

The likely cause for a fight is if the hippo were to attack the elephant's cub. This rarely happens since elephants move in groups, especially when there are young ones in the herd.

Related article: 22 fun facts about African elephants

Hippo Vs. Rhino. Which Is Stronger?

hippo vs rhino

This could be an evenly matched fight. The animals are in a close range of weight and size and each has a strong fighting tool on their heads.

A hippo is more likely to win in the water while the rhinoceros might have the upper hand on land.

While rhinos are mostly calm and peaceful as opposed to the volatile temper of the hippo, an angry rhino is not something to mess with. In the end, it could come to the individual abilities of either the rhino or the hippo.

Would A Hippo Ever Fight A Gorilla?

This is very unrealistic and will probably never happen in the wild - so, no a hippo would never fight a gorilla. You can be sure that it is as likely as a hippo fighting an orca or a polar bear - never. While both gorillas and hippos are native to Africa, the places they live are completely different.

silverback gorilla in Bwindi

Gorillas live in forests and these forests are often in steep and hilly places. Hippos live in flatlands of open grasslands and freshwater bodies. Any comparison of the 2 habitats is highly hypothetical.

While the pygmy hippos live in thick forests that do have some primates, their interaction with gorillas is considered nonexistent.

That being said, you might find some very interesting hypothetical theories and answers all around the internet.

Related article: Where do mountain gorillas live?

Final Thoughts

Given the fact that a hippo is built to be a fighting beast, it is no surprise that it is Africa's most dangerous animal. Well, wild animals. 

Logically, there would be no need for a herbivore to have a mouth that opens that wide, incisors that sharp, or a temper that bad, and yet the hippo is all of that - yet outwardly seeming docile.

The more you learn about hippos, the more you get fascinated with them because they are not just dangerous, they also make their sunscreen as well as rise to the top of the water for breathing without waking up.

Hippos are one animal worth seeing, but you have to respect the rules and keep your distance.

Related articles