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It's Not Over 'Til The Fat Hippo Sings

KIDSPACE

(Page 2 of 2)



I felt safe with the ranger nearby, until I glanced over my shoulder and saw him peering into the bullet chamber of his old rifle - to see if it was loaded?

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Hippos can be dangerous to hippos too.

I saw a picture of a wounded hippo with a deep gash in its forehead from the powerful bite of another hippo. Hippos sometimes fight in the water, awesome open jaw to open jaw. This morning, two hippos starting fighting on shore, then tumbled down the steep bank together, like two giant wrestlers. Apparently the fall surprised both of them because they stopped fighting once they hit the water.

Here at the pool, all I was accomplishing was giving the hippos some noontime entertainment. Under the scorching hot sun, I had sat for half an hour on the shore, waiting for the hippos to sound off. While I sweated, the hippos watched me from the cool water.

I gave up on that uncooperative group and turned my attention to an old bull hippo soaking alone nearby. He had a reputation for charging people. But even he was holding his huge tongue today.

This afternoon, we took one more trip in the small boat. This time our motor broke down, right near the spot where a bull hippo with a mean reputation had just sunk out of sight.

Hippos are big enough to come up under a boat, and overturn it. They can also bite through the bottom of a boat, which they have done on this river. It was a mysterious feeling, not knowing where the bull hippo was. We have had numerous big hippos suddenly surface and charge our boat.

So all eyes were on the spot where the bull had disappeared as we passed over it. Our captain was paddling hard, with the only paddle on board, one that looked like a hippo had bitten away half of it. We were glad when we reached shore safely.

One night, in desperation for hippo sounds, I even asked some children in camp to imitate them. The children were good sports, but they sounded pretty weak compared to the enormous noises hippos make.

The next morning we flew out of the camp. But a few days later, at Ruaha National Park, also in Tanzania, I thought I would make one last try to capture hippo sounds.

An hour before dark, I got my tape recorder out and walked to the edge of the river, where a dozen hippos and two dozen eyes watched my approach. Some of the hippos sank quickly beneath the water. When they surfaced, they sprayed the air with water as they exhaled.

After half an hour, several hippos began snorting and calling - giant blasts of sound: a series of deep, low grunts, sometimes ending with high-pitched squeal: huh, huh, huh, huh, huh, heee.

One would start, then another ... sometimes a whole group of them were bellowing at the same time. My tape recorder picked it up easily for a Christian Science Monitor radio program.

By now it was dark, time for the hippos to come out of the water. They seemed to be eyeing me with impatience.

So I walked back to the car, climbed in, and packed my tape recorder away. Then, just as we were starting to drive away, the whole hippo pool exploded with noise. Maybe they were laughing at my efforts to record them. Or maybe they were just saying goodbye.