Hippopotamus Social Behavior
The Hippo social structure is very interesting, and has been carefully observed on many levels. Males can stake a claim to a stretch of territory where they will reign. There they will have a group of females and young offspring. The group can vary from only a few to about thirty of them.
In the past it was believed that Hippos were bonding in the water with each other. Today though experts believe that they do end up very close to each other in the water. Yet they often aren’t communicating with each other while there. They are individualistic and will put their own needs and the needs of their offspring before any other Hippo around them. They can become very territorial in the water too, which makes it hard for the younger ones to find their own space.
There is a dominant male in the herd that is allowed to control what the females will do. They do allow some younger males to be in the herd, but only if they continue to take on a submissive role. Should those males express an interest in mating they will be driven out of the herd.
In the herds you will find that the Hippos segregate themselves. The males will stay in one area and the females in the other. The young offspring will stay very close to their mothers. Once they get older the females will stay in that group and the males will create their own little bachelor area.
If you are around a group of Hippos, you will here them vocalizing as a way to communicate with each other. There is a great deal we still need to learn in regards to what these sounds mean though. Bellows and deep grunts can be heard, and they are more common when they are looking to mate.
It is possible that they use echolocation just like dolphins but there isn’t’ enough evidence in place yet to substantiate such claims. Due to the highly aggressive nature of Hippos it is very hard to observe their social structure and communicating in depth in the wild.
A unique ability that Hippos have though is to hold their head above the water part way. Then they can make sounds that are able to travel both through the land and through the air. This is an amazing ability and can help to get messages sent to those Hippos that are quite a distance away from them.
Hippos have a rather distinct method for marketing their territory. As they are spinning around in the water they will lift up the tail. Then they will defecate or urinate backwards to cover the biggest area that they can. This is why many villagers that live in areas around Hippos won’t drink the water there due to the chances of becoming ill.
Even though Hippos can become territorial with each other, the aggressiveness rather escalates enough for them to be seriously injured or killed by one another. The biggest conflicts occur when a young male wants to mate and the dominate bull isn’t going to allow it. When a mother is trying to protect her young then there are forms of aggressive behavior. When food sources are running low or there is little water to be in then they will fight each other for it.
There is still plenty that we haven’t yet learned about these fascinating animals. Hopefully we will find ways that we can use to further explore the natural social structure of the Hippo. As technology advances we may one day have answers to remaining questions.