(Investigtor 36, 1994 May)

Hippopotamuses existed in ancient Syria. They also lived in the Nile River of Egypt until the 12th century.

The Roman writer Pliny the Elder seems to imply that hippos do most of their eating in the water:

"The hippopotamus stands out in one branch of medicine. For when it lumbers ashore after excessive eating – in which it indulges all the time – to look for recently cut rushes, and sees a very sharp stalk, it presses its body on to it and pierces a vein in its leg, and so, by losing blood, lightens its body…" (Healy p. 119)

When films, whether movies or documentaries show hippos they nearly always show them in water or by the edge of a body of water. Many books likewise suggest, in words or pictures, that hippos hardly leave the water.

For example:

"Common hippos live in rivers, sleeping and resting by day and emerging at night to feed on plants near the water." (Jones p.42)

The Bible calls the hippo "Behemoth" and implies that it can travel and eat some distance from water:

"For the mountains yield food for him
Where all the wild beasts play." (Job 40:20)

The hippo's food is vegetation:

"… he eats grass like the ox." (40:15)

The Bible's description of the hippo’s eating behaviour is accurate. Hippos do indeed often feed well away from water, up to 15 kilometres and are able to go up steep slopes.

Cansdale (1970) wrote:

"Observers of grazing hippos in Central Africa have sometimes likened them to giant mowing machines, cutting great swathes though the grass which is their main food." (p. 101)


Cansdale, G S 1970 Animals of Bible Lands, Paternoster, Britain p.101
Healy, J F 1991 Pliny The Elder Natural History A Selection, Penguin p. 119
Jones, E (Consultant Editor) 1984 The Atlas of World Geography, Peerage Books, Britain.