Only Africa’s most cheeky predators will easily prey on an adult hippo. These large herbivores – armed with 20-inch canines and wrapped in thick, tire-like skin – are typically cantankerous and have a reputation for being one of the most dangerous species on the continent. It will take a particularly ambitious and hardy hunter to even attempt to tackle one of those cranky 4,000-pounders – exactly the kind of challenge hyenas love.
Captured in the middle of the night on a Africam Live in South Africa’s Great Kruger National Park, two hyenas were filmed harassing a hippo who appeared to be trying to graze in peace. Hippos spend most of their time submerged in the safety and coolness of rivers and dams, but they emerge at night to feed. They sometimes travel up to 10 km (six miles) in search of food and can consume up to 68 kg (150 lbs) of grass in a single night. Although you wouldn’t know it by observing their heavy gait, hippos can sprint at 29 km / h (18 miles per hour) – something they will easily do if they find themselves stranded and separated from their aquatic abodes.
Hyenas also feed at night. These notorious nocturnal prowlers do much of their hunting and foraging under cover of darkness. Widely regarded as scavengers, hyenas are in fact capable hunters (most successful in Africa – sorry, lion fans), but like all predators, they will choose an easy meal if available. While it is not clear how this particular interaction ended (or even how it started), it is likely that the hyenas realized the difficulty of the task at hand and set out in search of easier pickings.
A hippo is an ambitious target even for hyenas, and it is possible that this one may have had some kind of injury that caught the interest of cackling predators. Luke Hunter, chairman of the cat conservation group Panthera, surveys carried out between 1988 and 2000 in a reserve forming part of the large ecosystem of Kruger Park, recorded more than 4,000 victims of large carnivores. Only one of these was a hippo killed by lions, which suggests that, for the most part, this type of prey poses too great a risk to predators.
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