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Hippopotamus

( Originally Published 1936 )

The Hippopotamus, or River Horse, is a huge unwieldy animal which frequents the rivers and lakes of Central and Southern Africa, where it spends most of its time floating on the water or wading and feeding on grass and reeds growing either at the bottom or on the edges of streams. It is enormously heavy and long in proportion to its height, large specimens measuring as much as fourteen feet in length and five in height. The head is huge and powerfully made, and the gape exceeds that of any other known creature, the jaws forming a continuous line with one another. The tusks are enormously developed in both jaws, and the males fight viciously on occasions, inflicting severe wounds with these great canine teeth. The eye is rather large, but very dull and stupid in expression, and is placed, as might be expected in an amphibious animal, close to the top of the head; the ears are small and pointed and flexible, and are just above the eyes. See Plate 33, Fig. 144. When floating, the whole body is submerged with the exception of the nostrils, eyes, and ears. Besides man, the Hippopotamus is not known to have any enemies —a possible exception being the large crocodiles that infest the rivers in which it lives. The female is very fond of her young, and may often be seen floating with a little one on her back. In looks the baby is an ex-act counterpart of its mother.

A curious character of the Hippopotamus is the presence of numerous large pores in the skin from which exudes a thick oily liquid resembling blood, which is useful in protecting the skin against the action of the water. Upon emerging, these pores immediately begin to throw out the oily fluid, which trickles from the body in tiny streams.

On account of its enormous appetite, this animal is very destructive to the crops of the natives of Africa, and for this reason it has been exterminated in many places where it was formerly abundant. It is captured in pitfalls and killed, and is also speared in the rivers—the latter a dangerous operation and one that requires great skill and patience.

The Hippopotamus lives well in captivity, and in the zoological collection in New York as many as six young have been born in the past twenty years.

The only other species is the Liberian Hippopotamus (Chaeropsis liberiensis), which inhabits West and Central Africa. It is a smaller and much rarer animal, and differs from the foregoing species in several particulars.

In early times the range of the Hippopotamus was much greater than at present, fossil specimens having been found as far north as France.



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