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Yes, hippos kill ‘around 500 people a year in Africa’

“Hippos are the mammals that kill the most people in Africa, yet their diet consists of only grass,” reads a meme going around Facebook in South Africa.

“If hippos don’t kill people for food, why do they kill people?  Hippos are extremely short tempered, territorial and aggressive, when people get between them and their water sources to go catch fish, swim, etc… 

“Hippos will most likely show aggressive behaviour when they feel threatened.  You might think that such a big, stocky animal would never be able to outrun a human, but think again because hippos can run up to 30km per hour!”

The meme has been flagged as possibly false by Facebook’s fact-checking system. What’s the truth here?


‘Third-largest living land mammal’

The African Wildlife Foundations says that there are two types of hippo in the world: the large or common hippo and its smaller relative, the pygmy hippo. 

Hippos, it says, are the “third-largest living land mammal, after elephants and white rhinos”. 

“Their powerful jaws are capable of opening up to 150 degrees revealing their enormous incisors.”

Hippo seen as the world's deadliest large land mammal

National Geographic describes the hippo as a majestic animal, a herbivorous mammal that weighs between “one-and-a-half and four tons”. The article says they can grow up to 4 metres long. 

They may only munch on plants (about 37 kilograms every day), but they are one of the most aggressive animals on earth, National Geographic adds.

“They can snap a canoe in half with their powerful jaws, and they kill about 500 people in Africa each year.”

In a list of the world’s deadliest animals, the BBC also says that the hippo is the world's deadliest large land mammal, “killing an estimated 500 people per year in Africa”. 

They wouldn’t even have to attack people. At 2,750 kilograms they can crush a person to death just by standing on them.

Smithsonian Magazine says that hippos are most agitated when it comes to defending their territory and their young. 

“Hippos have trampled or gored people who strayed too near, dragged them into lakes, tipped over their boats, and bitten off their heads.”

Even though they kill around 500 people a year in Africa, National Geographic says that hippos are a vulnerable species and their numbers are decreasing. 

“They're threatened by habitat loss and illegal hunting, as they're targeted for their meat and ivory canine teeth.” – Taryn Willows


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