Are Hippos Dangerous? Understanding Their Aggressive Behavior

hippo
An angry hippopotamus speaks up in Botswana. John Carnemolla/Shutterstock

Hippopotamusi (Hippopotamus amphibius) are the third largest land animal, after elephants and white rhinos. Despite their large size and innocent, sometimes sluggish appearance, they are fast and furious. In fact, hippos are considered one of the deadliest animals in Africa. Discover why hippos are considered so dangerous.

Behavior

Hippos live in groups called schools or bloats (also named pods or sieges) and jostle for a position in the social ladder. While the species is mostly sedentary, male hippos make efforts to assert their dominance after age seven. The roars and big yawns they make are actually aggressive displays, showing off their sizable and sharp teeth.

Not only will hippos fight each other—particularly when their areas are crowded and they have to compete for resources—but they will also charge anything that is perceived as a threat. This includes cattle grazing nearby or people either on land or even when in boats traveling along a river. Hippos have actually been said to kill about 500 people each year. Hippos can run a surprising 30 kilometers per hour for short distances, so it isn't easy to outrun one even on land. Ultimately, hippos are responsible for killing around 500 people every year.

Threats

Despite the fact that hippos are so deadly to human, humans are the ones causing hippos to fast disappear as a species. This species is, unfortunately, very valuable to hunters for its meat, tusks, and hide. While hunting hippopotamusi is illegal, it is still a chief reason for the species' population decline. The IUCN Red List categorizes hippos as vulnerable.

Because the species has lost vast portions of its habitat to human settlements, many hippos are now confined primarily to protected areas.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • How many people die from hippo attacks per year?

    It's unclear exactly how many people are attacked and killed by hippos per year, but most estimates put the number at 500. Almost all deaths related to hippo attacks occur in Africa.

  • Who is at risk of a hippo attack?

    The vast majority of humans will never encounter a wild hippo in their lifetimes, which makes these animals relatively nonthreatening to people. Those who are at risk of a hippo attack, however, are people who fish in their territory in Africa. As demand for fish grows throughout hippos' range, an increasing number of attacks are reported.

  • Can you outrun a hippo?

    Hippos can run 30 mph or more—faster even than the world's fastest human, Usain Bolt. That said, humans have no chance of outrunning a hippo.

  • How can you prevent a hippo attack?

    The best way to avoid being attacked by a hippo is to keep your distance, avoid their territory, and make yourself known to them if they're near. If you're in a boat, tap on the boat just as you would talk out loud if you were in grizzly country.

  • Do hippos eat people?

    Hippos are herbivores. They don't eat people or meat of any kind. They only attack humans as a means of self-defense.