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.

Wildlife

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