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Mr Hippopotamus and curious little Phenyo

This creative blog was written by Elzette Bam, Bushwise Professional Field Guide student. As part of their training, students write a researched blog based on a topic of their choice. 

On a day that wasn’t particularly hot or cold, where peace is usually found in the balance, a certain hippo wasn’t having a peaceful time. That is because he was being bothered by a small curious human.

Everyday the small human would pester the hippo with questions regarding his species. He tried to ignore this tiny annoyance but underestimated its persistence. So to get rid of this human, he decided to indulge in its tedious questions. 

Just the ears, eyes and nose of a hippopotamus are visible above the water in a dam in the African bushveld.

“Mr Hippopotamus, what does your name mean?” asked Phenyo.

The ignorance of humanity surprises me more and more everyday, thought the hippo.

“Listen well human, for I will only indulge in your foolishness once. My name is Greek and it means ‘river horse’. The direct English translation is ‘horse’ (hippo) of the ‘river’ (potamus)”, explained Mr Hippopotamus.

“Wow! Mr Hippopotamus. You’re as big as a horse! Does that mean you’re the largest animal?” exclaimed Phenyo. 

“No tiny human that status belongs to my grey brethren – the elephant and the wide rhino”, Mr Hippopotamus reflected.

“Wide rhino? Isn’t it called white rhino?” asked a confused Phenyo. 

A white rhino mother and calf standing together near a thicket.

“Yes, they are now mistakenly known as white rhino because the British humans didn’t know how to listen. The story goes that the white rhino got its name from the Dutch name, wijd renoster – which means ‘wide rhinoceros’ and refers to the wide upper lip. But because the British humans heard ‘white’ the wrong name stuck”, explained Mr Hippopotamus.

“Oh no! Poor rhinos. Do you eat the same thing white rhinos and elephants do?” asked Phenyo curiously. 

“I do, tiny human. We are known as grazers which means we enjoy eating grasses . But during drought if I have no other option, I eat elephant dung if I have to”, said Mr Hippopotamus. 


A hippopotamus head appears from the water of a dam, as it walks along the bottom in its territory.

“Elephant dung!” exclaimed Phenyo in disgust. “Doesn’t it taste nasty?” 

“It is not about whether the dung tastes good or not. The digestive systems of elephants are not very effective so there is still lots of nutritional value in their dung which I can then use if there isn’t a lot of food”, explained Mr Hippopotamus. 

“Oh I see,” said Phenyo. “I wish I could be a good swimmer like you Mr Hippopotamus. I would travel the world!” he announced.

 “Well tiny human, I don’t really swim. I actually walk on the bottom of rivers and lakes. I can stay submerged for up to five minutes”, said Mr Hippopotamus. 

“I once heard something interesting about you, Mr Hippopotamus! Do you really sweat blood? Do you exercise so hard that you sweat blood?” asked Phenyo. 

“No, little human. I have no sweat glands. My skin is very sensitive to sunburn, and if I stay out in the sun too long, my skin can crack and bleed – which may attract the attention of predators. So I have special glands that secrete an oily substance that can help protect me from the sun. This oil is colourless at first, but changes to reddish-orange when it gets exposed to the sun”, explained Mr Hippopotamus.

“I see”, said Phenyo. “Mr Hippopotamus, are you tired? Why are you yawning like that?” asked Phenyo worried. 


A hippo yawning widely, showing a territorial display.

“I am not yawning because I am tired. I am yawning to warn and intimidate my potential enemies”, said Mr Hippopotamus menacingly. 

 “Oh”, gulped Phenyo. “But why are you yawning towards me?” asked Phenyo, who was suddenly very frightened. 

“I am growing tired of your presence, human. I think I have quenched your burning curiosity enough. If you do not wish to perish today, I advise you to retire to your village”, threatened Mr Hippopotamus.  

“Alright, alright, just one more question and then I will leave”, Phenyo said quickly. “Why are you not part of the Big 5?” 

“Ahh now that is the most interesting question you’ve asked. While danger is considered part of the Big 5 and my kind do harm more people than any of the Big 5, we aren’t on the list because apparently we’re not as difficult to hunt”, explained Mr Hippopotamus.

Satisfied, the small human returned to his village where he could once again chat with the Bushwise students. A certain hippo finds peace in the quiet of its natural environment once more.

Storytelling is an essential part of becoming a world-class field guide. Learn how to tell stories like Elzette on a Bushwise course!

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