A hippo is the third largest land mammal after elephant and rhinoceros. Due to the size and habitat, they move slowly and lazily, and may appear to be harmless as they graze peacefully along the riverine forests. But a hippo can be very dangerous when confronted. Large as they may be, they are not confrontational and will hardly chase a person when outside water. When they have to, and in response to danger, the hippo will always run towards the water and submerge in a pool, leaving only the eyes and nostrils on the surface to observe the surroundings. Should the source of concern extend into the water, then the hippo attack, using the mouth as the weapon. It is safe to say that the hippo has no natural enemy especially when grown up. Sometimes babies are trumped upon by adults when they scramble for space in a small pool. But in general, adult hippos have very little to fear. I would have said that with total conviction if I had not witnessed a hunt of a fully grown hippo by four male lions in Masai Mara. In nature, nothing is permanent. As environment changes, habits change as well. Hunters device new methods to maximize their food source.
There is these four young lion brothers that live close to Ashnil lodge in Mara. They live in a rare coalition and do not seem to be in any hurry to own a pride. They live as bachelors, and will be seen hunting together in the darkest of the nights. And they have chosen their diet as hippo meat only. Even though there is a big heard of buffaloes within the territory, they control – they are not interested in killing bufallos. Since they discovered the benefits of patience, they will spend hours on end, waiting for the right time to attack a hippo. It may take days to wait, but they know it will also take days for them to finish a hippo when they kill one. So, patience is their weapon.
I watched them do a surveillance on a large male hippo for three days. The hippo would come out of the main river and feed close by, following a small valley that empties run off rain water into the main Mara River. Time to time, the hippo would stop to rest in a pool of water within the small valley. The lions kept watch until the hippo moved out of the small pool to graze as he headed towards the main river when dawn approached. The lions moved with him but at a distant. After a day’s observation, the lions discovered the pattern and made their move. As soon as the hippo moved into the small pool to rest, the lions positioned themselves around the pool. The hippo could not come out of the pond to feed. He was trapped. The lions stayed at the pool overnight, making sure that the hippo stayed hungry all night. When the day came, the lions did not move. The pool was very small and the hippo had to suffer from the scorching sun and hunger. Meanwhile, the lions would take turns to go to the pool, drink to their fill, harass the hippo for a while and come out to sleep at their station. I even observed a time when two juvenile lions came to relieve the older males so that they can move to a shade to cool. Throughout the day, the hippo suffered the humiliation of being watched over by two tiny lions, but his options were limited.
The night of the third day was the day of reckoning. The hippo could not stand the stinging hunger anymore. He opted to fight it out with the lions. But the lions knew they had worn out of just being patient. They knew the hippo was very weak. The four of them, and the two juveniles were more than enough for the hippo. When the hippo came out of the pool with the mouth open, ready for a showdown, he didn't stand a chance. I stayed with the hippo for the next three days when they fed on the dead hippo. When they left, the carcass was still large enough for another two days but the smell was too much even for the lions.
Patience pays, so we say. And so it is.