The Story Of Wild Animals:
Story Of The Prairie Dog
Story Of The Wild Boar
Story Of The Porcupine
Story Of The Hippopotamus
Story Of The Jackal
Story Of The Tapir
Story Of The Monkey
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Story Of The Hippopotamus
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
It is related of a former United States Senator from Ohio that he was one day at a circus and menagerie, where he was watching the feeding of the hippopotamus, when a party, among whom was a dentist, approached. The dentist laughingly said:
"Many's the time I took molars like that fellow has, and put them in the mouths of my patients."
Pressed to explain what he meant, he stated that the tusks of the hippopotamus were of finest ivory and used in making false teeth. The Senator had been an attentive listener to the conversation, and suddenly he was seen to shudder and turn pale. Reaching into his mouth he took out a plate, and, passing it to the dentist, asked whether the teeth in it were made from the hippopotamus' tusks. When he was assured they were, he refused to replace them, and never again wore false teeth. A peculiar lisping pre-vented his making speeches after that, but no amount of persuasion sufficed to overcome his disgust at the teeth.
The hippopotamus is generally spoken of as a river horse, because that is the translation of its Greek name, but "river hog" would be a more truthful description.
Hippopotami are bulky animals; with round, barrel-like bodies of great length, very short and thick legs, and enormous heads. Indeed, the ugly head of a hippopotamus appears as if it were too large and heavy for its owner, since the animal may frequently be seen resting its ungainly muzzle on the ground, as though to relieve the neck from the strain of its weight.
There is, in all probability, but one species of the hippopotamus. It inhabits Africa exclusively, and is found in plenty on the banks of many rivers in that country, where it may be seen gamboling and snorting at all times of the day.
These animals are quiet and inoffensive while undisturbed; but, if attacked, they unite to repel the invader, and I have known them to tear several planks from the side of a boat, and sink it. They can remain about five or six minutes under water, and, when they emerge, they make a loud and very peculiar snorting noise, which can be heard at a great distance.
In size the full-grown hippopotamus is equal to the rhinoceros. In form it is uncouth, the body being extremely large, fat, and round; the legs are very short and thick; the mouth extremely wide, and teeth of vast strength and size. The eyes and ears are small. The whole animal is covered with short hair, thinly set, and is of a brownish color. The hide is in some parts two inches thick, and not much unlike that of the hog.
From the unwieldiness of his body, and the shortness of his legs, the hippopotamus is not able to move fast upon land, and is then an extremely timid animal. If pursued it takes to the water, plunges in, sinks to the bottom, and there walks at ease. It cannot, however, continue long without rising for air, though, if threatened with danger, it does this so cautiously that the place where its nose is raised above the surface of the water is scarcely perceptible.
If wounded, the hippopotamus will rise and attack boats or canoes with reat fury, and will often sink them by biting large pieces out of their sides. In shallow rivers it makes deep holes in the bottom, in order to conceal its great bulk. When it quits the water it usually puts out half its body at once, and smells and looks round; but sometimes rushes out with great impetuosity, and tramples clown everything in the way. During the night it leaves the rivers to feed on sugar-canes, rushes, millet or rice, of which it consumes great quantities.
The Egyptians are said to adopt a singular mode of destroying this voracious animal. They mark the places it frequents, and there deposit a quantity of peas. When the beast comes ashore, hungry and voracious, it eagerly devours the peas, which causes a thirst. It then rushes into the water, and drinks so copiously that the peas in its stomach, being fully saturated, swell so much as soon afterwards to cause his death. Among the Kaffirs in the south of Africa the hippopotamus is sometimes caught by means of pits,
The gait of this animal, when undisturbed, is generally so slow and cautious that it often smells out the snare, and avoids it. The most certain method is to watch at night, behind a bush close to its path, and strike it in the knee joints with a sword.
The ancient Egyptians were in the habit of harpooning the hippopotamus, and this custom is still kept up by the Sudanis on the upper Nile. The usual plan when a party of these animals has been observed in the river, is for a couple of hunters, each armed with a harpoon to which a line is attached, to enter the river some distance above, and swim cautiously down on the herd. When within striking distance, both men hurl their weapons at the same time. To each is attached a wooden float, which marks the position of the animal while below the surface, and the phase is taken up by other hunters on the bank armed with harpoons and lances. By an ingenious arrangement, the float is at length captured by a rope and the animal dragged to shore, where it is despatched with lances. This, however, is frequently not accomplished without the death of one or more of the intrepid hunters. In Central Africa, on the other hand, the hippopotamus is harpooned from canoes. In other parts the favorite method is to suspend a weighted spear, frequently tipped with poison, over a branch of a tree near the tracks of the hippopotamus, and to make fast the end of the line, to which it is attached to stakes on either side of the path. When the animal comes along, it strikes against the line, the stakes are loosened, and the heavy spear comes down with a thud on its head or back.