Elephants roam at night to forage, and hippos eat their vegetarian menus when it is dark and cool. Hippos cannot stay out of the water long during the day, or they will die from sun exposure. Despite their mean behavior and fierce mouths, they have very tender, delicate skin. It’s hard to take them seriously sometimes because they spend all day in the water, often covered in water cabbages. When they poop in the water, they flap their short, fat tails underwater rather energetically, distributing the “fertilizer.” This behavior sounds funny, but it is nature’s way of spreading nutrients throughout the watery ecosystem nurturing aquatic life. Hippos are very noisy in the water.

When hippos come out of the water at night, they wear leis of greens and occasional lily flowers around their necks from the water cabbages that have helped keep them cool through the day. They emerge from the water and graze on grasses, often lawns surrounding lodges. They don’t use their teeth for grazing. Their lips act like giant rollers that take in the grass or greens, and they roll the grass around in their mouths until it becomes a very large, rolled wad resembling a giant cigar. Eventually, they swallow their cigars. If a hippo is frightened while doing this, it will spit out its cigar and scurry away. In the morning once in a while, we’d find a drying, green, cigar-shaped wad of vegetation rolled, but not eaten, by a hippo. We often saw dried “cabbage necklaces” that hippos shed during their nighttime forage.


A soft unusual grazing sound, sort of like our horse used to make when we let him graze on our lawn under my bedroom window, woke me around midnight one night. I looked out to see the top of a hippo happily grazing on the lawn right beneath my window. In the daylight, if I ventured that close to one near the water, I’d be in big trouble. They can run up to nineteen miles an hour. I cannot.

Guides have a sixth sense about where to find animals for us to view. One of the most striking views came just before sunset as everything turned to gold and bronze in color. A tower of giraffes young and old slowly and gracefully picked their way across the road in front of our vehicle, washed in the fiery colors of the sunset. The backdrop of barren trees and dry grasses was something an artist might render. This was the Africa I dreamed of.

Written by Patricia Cole

An Africa Hope Fund board member for 7 years, Pat is a writer and a conservation activist. After traveling to Zambia, she became dedicated to helping Africa Hope Fund provide education to the next generation of Africans and ensure their future by protecting wildlife. Find Patricia on Facebook and Twitter, or on her websites and

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Carol Van Brugen