In the center of the vast Serengeti National Park, where the Seronera and Orangi Rivers meet and spread into a low lying trough, sits one of the Serengeti’s most astonishing sights – the Hippo Pool. We smelled the pool before we saw it. A pungent, muddy, manure-y stench filled the air over the small dirt parking lot above the riverbanks. Wrinkling our noses and grimacing, we emerged from our dusty Land Cruisers and hurried to the ledge overlooking the pool.
Our disgust at the smell was quickly displaced by our wonder at the sight below us.
The pool was filled with over one hundred huge dark-grey bodies crowded together. The hippos filled the pool from bank to bank, resting their huge pink snouts on neighbors’ backs, and snorting wet, burbling grunts. Their tiny ears wiggled, bringing back childhood memories of the animatronic hippos on the Jungle Boat ride at Disneyland.
Although most of the hippos were resting quietly in the mid-day warmth, the water bubbled constantly with muddy, stinky spurts of water splashing over their massive bodies. I thought at first the hippos themselves were flipping water with their tiny tails to keep their backs cool, but no, the water was churned up by the river carp who were feeding on the hippo dung that filled the brown pool caused the waterspouts. I gave silent thanks that I was not born a hippo…or a carp!
Around a slight bend in the river was a second smaller pool, a tad bluer due to a better flow of water and fewer hippos. Our guide, Cosmas, rustled the bushes above the pool and the sleeping hippos immediately came to life, snorting loud huffs and glaring up at us. Cosmas explained that hippos marked their territory by crashing noisily through the bushes, so the hippos below were alert to a new intruder. Since he had been awakened so rudely, one of the big males decided he might as well take advantage of the opportunity for a little afternoon delight. He heaved his massive body up onto the back of his sleeping neighbor, lazily thrusting his pelvis against hers while she struggled to keep her nostrils above the water. As I took a video of the scene, I couldn’t help but giggle at the thought that I was making a “hippo porn movie.”
A nearby crocodile resting on the riverbank slithered into the water to get away from the waves created by the amorous hippos.
It was hard to equate these lazy and adorable giants with danger, but hippos actually kill more humans than any other African animal – about 300 deaths annually! Very territorial, they will charge an intruder with little provocation, and we tiny humans don’t stand much chance against a two-and-a-half ton body trampling over us. I took seriously the signs posted along the fence post warning, “Do not go beyond this point.”
We saw many animals in our travels through Kenya and Tanzania who were more graceful and beautiful, but no other animal encounter on our trip was as unique – and amusing – as the sight of the Hippo Pool.
NOTE: You can find my complete journal account of our safari in the Serengeti at Travels With Robby