After two walking treks in the Okavango Delta at Oddball’s Camp in the Moremi Game Reserve, I hadn’t yet seen any hippos – we had only heard them at dinner time around the camp. So when the Canadian couple mentioned that for their afternoon trek they were going to look for hippos, I thought that sounds fun – why not? Disney is famous for the jungle ride and the dancing hippos in Fantasia. While I know they weren’t real portrayals of the hippo, in Botswana, the hippos are real. Real big and really dangerous. They are the third largest land mammal after the elephant and white rhino.
In Search of Hippos
We set out on the mokoro and I could feel the difference in the boat when we entered the deeper part of the water and my stomach had that uneasy feeling I get when I try to kayak and think i’m going to get stuck or fall in. I could see the other boat ahead in the water. As for me, I was still taking in the various sights and sounds of the reserve enjoying the sun, the water, the light breeze. Suddenly, my guide steered the boat to the shallow part of the water and right into the tall reeds to hide! I was told to get down and be quiet. At this point, I was a bit freaked out not knowing what happened but did as I was told. My guide whispered that the boat ahead had heard hippos in front of them and were getting close unaware that hippos were approaching them from the side channel so they had to hide in the grass hoping the hippos would pass by and leave them alone. My guide had a look about him that did not provide me a sense of comfort. Hippos are herbivores so no eating people, right?
Well, sort of, here’s what everyone left out or I just neglected to research (a quick google search would have helped) – hippos are the most deadly, territorial animals in Africa and they kill the most people each year! They will attack you. Forget about lions – it is mosquito, hippo, buffalo, elephant and crocodile in the order of deadly animals in Africa. When I recounted this experience later in my trip, everyone seemed to know this nugget of information (except me)! Walking through the reserve and seeing all of the animals the past few days, gave me a false sense of safety especially as the guides are not armed, so the hippo encounter was scary. How would we get back to camp if hippos were in the channels? We couldn’t walk (run!) back. So we waited and waited and then after a very long thirty minutes looking at the grass, we started back for camp and my relaxing ride taking in the sights was replaced with a heightened sense of looking and listening for anything that signaled trouble.
Safely Back at Camp – Hippos in the Background
Happily back on land at camp, my heart beating normally, Yvonne and I climbed the rooftop observation area of camp to look out while her husband went back out on the water.
The hippos had been ahead of us and were now just around the camp channels and there was still a couple yet to come back to camp. We could now hear the hippos and see them around the camp. Our guide had to guide the missing couple’s boat around with hand gestures and sounds. The boat moved forward and to the side in a bit of a chess game before arriving safely at camp.
From the perch above, I could now take photos, albeit dark, as the sun had set and the hippos were ready to provide our dinnertime music as they had the night before. I would see the hippo numerous times on my journey through Africa but will not be naïve again to actively set out to look for them or dismiss them as cute animated cartoon characters.