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The Hippos of Malawi

The hippopotamus is one of the largest mammals in sub-Saharan Africa. When ancient Greek explorers first discovered them they name these creatures hippopotamus, meaning river horse. Although not looking like a horse the name stuck and today we know these graceful animals by their shortened name, hippo. Going on any safari in Malawi you are sure to see quite a number of hippos, be it along the banks of the Shire River in Liwdone, or in the watering holes of Kasungu National Park. Even on the lake shore you can spot a bloat of hippos from time to time. Back in the day (pre 2000) the Livingstonia Beach Hotel at Senga Bay had a sign warning guests not to go onto their beach after 6.00pm as hippos would sleep there from time to time.

A number of weeks ago there was a news report came across my feed, reporting about a tragedy in Malawi involving hippos on the Shire River. This was a tragedy with a one-year-old boy being killed and 23 people missing, presumed dead, after a hippo hit their boat, capsizing it in Malawi’s biggest river. It is very unusual for a hippo to attack in this way, but when they do their are fierce creatures.


Chichewa word for hippopotamus

On one occasion, while staying at the Mvuu Lodge in Liwonde National Park, my friend and I were being escorted back to our room in the evening by a watch guard. He had either a keen eye or exceptional hearing (or both) as he suddenly put out his arm, causing us to stop on the dimly lit path. In front of us strode past a baby hippo and its mother. One of the many survival tips you get when travelling to the African continent is not to come between a mother hippo and her young. Female hippos are particularly protective of their young and will do anything if they think they are in danger. We made it safely to our room, but not a little cautious from then on!

The story of the hippo in Malawi is one of two sides. They are beautiful animals that live what seems to be a calm and slow pace of life. But then there are the stories of villagers being trampled on or being gorged because they simply got too close. The keen traveller and resident alike need a healthy respect for the mvuu of Malawi.

A hippopotamus can be made invisible in dark water.

African Proverb

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