Pictures: Hippo Struggles to Escape Ocean Surf

Residents of Ponta do Ouro in Mozambique were shocked to find a hippopotamus apparently struggling in the ocean surf in front of the beach town a few days ago. The giant mammal, which can weigh two or three tons, is certainly no stranger to water, living much of its life in Africa’s rivers and lakes. But while hippos have been known to stray into the sea in Gabon, it’s a very rare occurrence in southern Africa, and I have certainly never heard of a sighting such as this before.

Dolphin researcher Angie Gullan was out early in the morning, working on a documentary about dolphins, when she spotted the hippo in the waves struggling to keep his strength in the surging currents.

“It looked like a young male hippo,” said Angie in an email. “Perhaps he was kicked out of his family group by a more dominant male within the Kosi Bay Reserve of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site in neighboring South Africa, and then strayed into the sea.”

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Photo by Angie Gullan, Dolphin Encounters and Research Center

Normally a freshwater animal, the hippo seemed to be battling in the salty shore break, and for two hours he fought his way towards a rocky point that made a barrier between the surf and calmer waters of the Bay of Ponta do Ouro.

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Photo by Angie Gullan, Dolphin Encounters and Research Center

The sea frothed and crashed around the animal as he clumsily scrambled over the sharp rocks so that he could get to the calm waters in the bay.

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Photo by Angie Gullan, Dolphin Encounters and Research Center
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Photo by Angie Gullan, Dolphin Encounters and Research Center
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Photo by Angie Gullan, Dolphin Encounters and Research Center
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Photo by Angie Gullan, Dolphin Encounters and Research Center

After wading over the rocks, the lumbering animal finally leaped off the point and swam into the clear blue waters of the bay.

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Photo by Angie Gullan, Dolphin Encounters and Research Center
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Photo by Angie Gullan, Dolphin Encounters and Research Center

“As it stands, poor Mr Hippo is still in the bay!” wrote Angie on her Facebook page after the plight of the animal spread on social media. “We are unsure of the outcome, but rest assured the Reserve is keeping a close eye on the situation. It is NOT advisable to swim in the bay, please folks. We will keep you updated as we have more news.”

By evening, the hippo was still bobbing in deep water, and some locals were concerned that the animal would not survive the night in the ocean. Others worried that he would somehow emerge in the dark and hurt someone on the beach.

Early the next morning, the hippo, seemingly exhausted, was spotted resting on a beach north of the town.

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Photo by Angie Gullan, Dolphin Encounters and Research Center

Nic Vaughn Jones, a local philanthropist and former Kwa-Zulu Natal Parks Board conservationist, reported that the young male was doing well and making his way farther north, towards a less populated area with lakes and grassland behind protected dunes, habitat more appropriate for a hippopotamus.

“Hopefully the hippo makes his way across tonight,” Angie said. “We are holding thumbs that he will make it out safely and has the strength to push through!”

I’ll update this post when I get news.

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Hippo entering the Atlantic Ocean surf at dusk, Gabon. Photograph by Michael Nichols/National Geographic Creative.
Another example of a hippo entering the ocean surf, this one at dusk on a beach in Gabon, on the Atlantic coast of Africa. Photograph by Michael Nichols/National Geographic Creative.
Paul Steyn is a widely-published multi-media content producer from South Africa, and regular contributor to National Geographic News and blogs. Having guided throughout Africa for some years, he went on to edit a prominent travel and wildlife magazine, and now focuses on nature storytelling in all its forms. In 2013, he joined a team of researchers and Bayei on a 250km transect of the Okavango Delta on traditional mokoros. In 2016, he accompanied the Great Elephant Census team in Tanzania and broke the groundbreaking results on National Geographic News . Contact: paul@paulsteyn.com Follow Paul on Twitter or Instagram
  • NikkiS

    I am so worried for this poor hippo! Could he not have been tranqulized and moved to safety? Poor thing ends up in a villager’s yard and they’ll kill him…and killing a hippo for being lost is unacceptable. I pray he made it Out of there.

  • segun

    When hippo. Was sited in river Niger he was hunted down & people celebrate what a world.

  • James Blackledge

    Even though hippopotamus are very popular to water they can not swim. At times they will hold their breath and walk on the waters bed, the fact is they cannot swim.

  • kick

    If this hippo actually pulls through and finds the lakes & grasslands up north that are mentioned in the article, it would be an excellent example of natural rehabilitation and reclaiming of land by wild animals. I hope he has the courage to keep going!
    Though I must say, finding a hippo running around on the beach must have been a pretty amusing sight.

  • reeze

    Oh poor thing, hope he is okay

  • Ana Puga

    Our local hippo was spotted again this morning in Malongane. At 07h20 we noticed him coming out of the water and settling on the beach. It would have been far better if the hippo had stayed in the less populated area of Mamoli. Reserve monitors reported that the hippo made it to the lake by Mamoli last night, stayed for a while then returned back to sea. Hippo’s are said to have a good filtration system and according to one of the chief vets in Mozambique, they are able to filter the salt out of the water so should not have a problem with dehydration. They also secrete an oily substance from their skin that is said to be a natural moisturiser and sunblock! Lets see what tomorrow holds.

    • Paul Steyn

      Thanks for the update, Ana.

  • Du

    NikkiS, I’m going through an emotional wreck right now since I’m here crying because some good person across the globe is praying for an hippo from Mozambique. I love the internet. Thanks for being kind.

  • reeze

    Oh poor thing, hope he’s okay. But how come no one helped him with the person who has seen just taking photos?

  • william

    he looks tired.

  • wanda

    Is there anyone who can help him like a veterinarian team? I couldn’t watch for hrs n do nothing ..just say n.

    • Paul Steyn

      Hi Wanda. There were park officials monitoring the animal, and they continue to look out for him on the beach. Chances are he is back in freshwater.

  • Edwynn Knepshield

    It’s called Natural Selection. We could very well be witnessing the the first steps in the evolution of a new species of marine mammal or at the very least Salt-Water Hippos…or not.

  • carlos

    My daughter and my son in low are there in holidays
    when she told me about this Hipoo I think was a joke antil the next day when she posted the pictures. I borne in Mozambique and I never seen or heard nothing like before. she was very concerned about the situation. I advise her to alert people by social media and try find some help international help. Im very glad the animal make a successful escape.

  • Junita Richter

    Hope he made it shame poor mr hippo

  • Christy Erlsten

    What a relief he made it out of the ocean! I’m with NikkiS I am glad he is safe but couldn’t someone assist him somehow to make it to shore sooner? Well he is no longer struggling or scared…that is all that matters now.

  • Anne

    Poor guy. Can’t they rescue and protect him? I doubt he’ll survive without help.

  • Sam

    I frequent St Lucia as a holiday destination (2hours Drive South) most mornings there are hippo tracks from the estuary to the ocean and back and locals have told me they often swim in the shorebreak.

  • José Alexander Criollo Marrero

    The Hippo becomes stronger (hard trainning). We learn something new all days.

  • Jesse

    Only a hippo could suvive this ordeal.

  • John H

    A great adventure he´ll enjoy telling his grandchildren!!

  • maria manuela lopes

    Hipo , yes you can

  • Willem Els

    At Richards Bay hippos are occasionally seen trekking to the beach via the canal from the Mzingazi lake area. They spend a day or two on the beach, taking a dip in the waves before retuning to the lake.

    • Paul Steyn

      Thanks for the info, Willem. Interesting!

  • Belinda Steyn

    We are so enjoying following the hippos journey. Looking forward to to the next installment.

  • fifigee

    I love nature and seeing the hippo in the ocean was disconcerting. Your pix/story was wonderful

  • Glenda W

    Hope this beautiful entity made it to safe waters. Please send us an update when you have one.

  • Simon Espley

    Hippos often enter the sea at Ponta Malongane, which is just north of Ponta do Ouro – they live in the many large lakes near the shore – and come close to the beach to graze.

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