A heroic hippo? Who knew hippos had it in them. We have all heard of heroic dogs rescuing people, dolphins warding off sharks to protect swimmers, and cats adopting and nursing orphaned rabbits, but a heroic hippo? If it was not for the video footage by tourist Vadim Onishchenko that shows a hippo clearly coming to the rescue of a gnu being attacked by a crocodile in Masai Mara Reserve in Kenya, it might be hard to believe.
After all, hippos are commonly perceived as the most dangerous animal in Africa, as they are responsible for more human deaths than any other big animal on the continent. They are infamous for being extremely territorial and aggressive. Their massive jaws and teeth are excellent crushers, and they do not hesitate to use them to deliver whatever point they want to make. Humans and other animals in the know, even toothy crocs, give hippos a wide berth, despite the fact that hippos are vegetarians.
In this incredible footage (see page two), a crocodile has caught a hapless gnu (also called a wildebeest) crossing a river. A few hippos observing the scene quickly make their way over to the struggling duo and one hippo aggressively scares off the crocodile. That scenario alone would be amazing footage, but the scene continues to unfold with the hippo escorting and nudging the scared witless gnu back to the shore. In one image, the hippo even seems to have a big smile on his face as he watches his rescued gnu step safely onto the river bank.
Hippos and crocs share the same waterways, so they spend both their days and nights in close vicinity with each other – undoubtedly with caution. One would think that the crocodile would be the dominant animal, but interestingly it is usually the hippos that dominate. There are countless instances where hippos have chased crocs off a shoreline or even out of a waterway, especially when a hippo calf is present, and there are numerous recorded instances of a hippo killing a crocodile.
As gregarious herd animals, the hippo is much more aware of social relationships and circumstances than we likely give them credit. Hippo mothers (cows) and calves share a very strong bond, with the mother licking and nuzzling her babe(s) on a regular basis. The mother also communicates with her offspring with nudges and gentle biting. A cow may have up to four youngsters following her. Perhaps the hippo in this story was not a he but a she, who had recently lost one of her babes to a crocodile. That could readily explain this hippo’s protective behavior. Onishchenko’s comment on the video clip when interviewed by MailOnline was exactly that: “I think the hippo’s parental instincts took over.”
What do you think? Was this a true act of interspecies compassion or a mother hippo just naturally reacting to a vulnerable animal in harm’s way?
Either way, Team Mammal comes out on top and that cold-blooded crocodile had to go elsewhere to find his next meal.
Click on the next page to watch Onishchenko’s footage.