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Photo of hippo, Liwonde National Park

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The hippo is certainly an established member of the group of African mammals depicted on kindergarten walls. 'H' is for 'hippo' of course! Fans of Fantasia enjoy the dancing hippo scene. It's the world's largest freshwater aquatic animal, although it returns to land to feed. Contrary to its popular cuddly image, the hippo is arguably Africa's most dangerous mammal. It is certainly ill-tempered, and grumpy hippos often attack or even kill people. Livingstone and other explorers were frequently assaulted by bulls swimming under their boats, perhaps mistaking the vessels for rival males. It may still happen, but in Liwonde National Park, Malawi, on the Shire River (where this picture was taken), the boat drivers are experienced at recognizing the warning signs. Cattle egrets associate with hippos, chasing insects disturbed by the lumbering animals. The hippos blithely ignore the birds that find the animals convenient perches.

In the dry season, when the skin is infested by parasites, oxpeckers roam the vast beast, looking for burrowing maggots—here's a symbiosis of benefit to both animals.

Learn about hippo natural history

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