Hippo Mating & Gestation
Hippo Mating & Gestation Explained
The hippo has probably one of the most interesting mating processes in the animal kingdom.
Hippos are Polygamous
Firstly, hippos are polygamous. This means that during the mating season one male hippo mates with multiple different female hippos within his social group or environment. The mating process does not happen as often as one would think. Mating only happens every two years – this time period places them in a group known as “k-strategists”, which is a group of large mammals that only reproduce after long periods of time. There is no specific season for mating, however, a pattern has been observed in some areas which indicate that they usually mate near the end of the dry season and the beginning of the rainy season. At this time the rain has brought them a lot of water and food which are perfect conditions for mating and eventually giving birth. This pattern is also linked to the estrous cycle (reproductive system) of the female. The spermatozoa (sperm cell) of a male hippo is active throughout the year After a female has conceived, she does not ovulate again for approximately 17 months, which is one of the factors influencing the long periods before mating.
When is the Right Time (Mating)
The question is how does the male know when the time is right to mate with the females? The male checks whether the female hippo is ready to mate by smelling her urine or sniffing her behind. During this time the dominant male, or the male with the right to mate with the female, will be around the females in the herd often, following them around everywhere. This build-up is intense and the males in the herd usually get aggressive, often fighting with each other. Hippos are probably not the most romantic as they try to attract a female hippo to mate with. During the peak mating time, the male hippos pee and defecate (pass feces from their bodies) at the same time. This is then followed by the male hippos using its tail to spread the faeces and pee to the female it wants to mate with to get her attention. The process usually lasts a period of aggression and trying to pick a mate lasts for between three days. After this, the mating occurs.
Where do Hippos Mate?
Where does mating happen? Mating between the male hippo and female hippo happens in water. This is unexpected considering the fact that hippos actually cannot swim. The female hippos are forcibly submerged in the water by the male hippo for most of the mating process. Her head comes up in intervals so that she can breathe. In some cases, although very rarely, the hippos may choose to mate on land. Hippos are the only land animals in Africa that mate in water!
Hippo Gestation Explained
After the mating period, the female hippo has a long gestation period of around 240 days or eight months (this may be in some cases a month or two shorter). When it is almost time to give birth, the female hippo goes into complete social isolation until she has given birth to her calf or calves (female hippos usually give birth to one calf but in some cases, they can give birth to twins). The baby hippo is born underwater during what is usually the wettest time of the year. The calf or calves are born hind legs first. Giving birth underwater helps the young hippos mother conserve her energy during the birthing process. It also protects the newly born calf from being attacked or even eaten by land predators such as Nile crocodiles, lions, and hyenas. The new mother only returns to the environment where her hippo group is after between 10 and 14 days, in some cases, it may be a longer period before she returns. Her return indicates that her calf or calves have imprinted (recognize her as the mother) on her.
The mother and calf have a very strong relationship from birth. This is unexpected for hippos as they are considered to be aggressive and isolated mammals. The young hippo usually rests on the mothers back and they swim underwater to suckle (feed from the breast). Weaning (feeding the young hippos food other than the food from the breast) occurs once the calf reaches between six and eight months). The baby hippos usually remain with their mothers until they reach the age of between seven and eight years old. This age is close to the age of sexual maturity. For males, they reach sexual maturity around the age of seven; while females reach sexual maturity at the ages of five and six years old. Studies have shown that some female hippos can actually reach sexual maturity between the ages of five and six years old. Despite their early sexual maturity, they do not begin mating until they reach the ages of seven and eight (when they leave their mothers).
Some Magnificent Hippo Interaction Captured on the St Lucia Estuary
St Lucia South Africa is South Africa's very first world heritage site and for good reason. For one the area boasts the largest free-roaming Hippo population in South Africa. These magnificent animals can be witnessed roaming the streets at night and enjoying the St Lucia Estuary during the day. It's a fascinating area to visit and should most definitely be on your bucket list should you be visiting KwaZulu Natal. Some other interesting areas to visit while in St Lucia includes the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park a mere 45 minutes drive from St Lucia and also just so happens to be the oldest proclaimed game reserve in Africa.
Heritage Tours & Safaris would like to invite you on one of their numerous Day Tours or Overnight Safari Packages available while in St Lucia.