Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park
Witness the power and grace of the mighty, water-loving hippo.
Plunge into a world of lush lagoons and underwater wonder to discover one of Africa’s most iconic creatures!
Hippos at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park
Guests can see basking hippos—which live in herds called a bloat—while experiencing the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction and while walking the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park. Guests may also get a behind-the-scenes perspective of the hippopotamuses on Wild Africa Trek.
Hippopotamuses in the Wild
Hippos inhabit the calm rivers and lakes of sub-Saharan Africa. Populations are usually found in small, fragmented pockets across the continent, mostly in protected areas.
Threats to Hippos
Few creatures on the African savanna are larger than a hippopotamus: adults weigh between 2,500 and 5,500 pounds, and even a newborn weighs in at a hefty 60 to 110 pounds. Yet despite their immense size, these semi-aquatic mammals face many threats in the wild. Current population trends show that their numbers are in a state of decline due to illegal hunting, many times for their meat and hide, but also for the ivory found in their tusks. In fact, about half of the 29 countries that hippos call home have observed a decline, leading the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to classify hippos as “vulnerable”. This designation puts hippos just one step away from being considered an endangered species.
Disney Conservation Efforts
The Walt Disney Company is passionately committed to the protection of hippopotamuses and their natural habitats. Find out what Disney is doing for the amazing animals—and how you can help!
"Disney’s Animal Kingdom creates an incredible experience where you’re really engaging with animals and conservation. You walk away feeling a special connection with animals and nature." – Djuan Rivers, VP Disney’s Animal Kingdom park
In demand and in conflict, wild populations of hippos continue to be threatened by poachers and human encroachment.
One of the greatest threats facing African wildlife is habitat loss. Hippos are no exception. As human development pushes further into wild spaces, many hippo habitats are being fragmented or destroyed altogether to make way for new roads, towns and agricultural fields. Increased development also brings hippos and humans closer together, which increases the likelihood of human-wildlife conflicts that can end poorly for the animals.
A High Price
There is no shortage of demand when it comes to hippo hide, meat and tusks. The high value placed on these items makes hunting hippos a profitable enterprise for poachers. Sadly, such unregulated hunting is one of the major factors contributing to the decline of hippos.
Disney Is Helping Hippos in the Wild
Since its founding in 1995, the Disney Conservation Fund (DCF) has contributed more than $40 million dollars to support conservation programs in more than 115 countries around the world.
Many African animals, the hippopotamus included, are negatively affected by human activities. The Disney Conservation Fund has supported projects throughout Africa for more than 20 years to protect the wildlife and wild places of this vast continent.
Disney’s animal care experts are dedicated to creating authentic habitats that cater to the specific needs of hippos.
The Right Ambiance
Tall grasses, shaded trees, rocks, waterfalls and wading pools galore—the Nile hippo exhibit at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park creates an environment that encourages these wonderful animals to explore, browse and interact with their surroundings. In addition to the physical ambiance, we also provide a rich social ambiance. Our hippos live in herds, which is important to their psychological well-being.
Have you ever wondered how to get a hippo to go to the dentist? At Disney’s Animal Kingdom park, the hippos are trained to open their mouths on cue so animal care experts can inspect their teeth. Additional training allows the animal care experts to shift the hippos from their onstage and backstage areas with just a sound cue. Training sessions that teach these skills are often reinforced with tasty treats like whole watermelons, a big favorite among the hippos.
A Buffet Everyday
Notorious browsers, hippos spend the night helping themselves to whatever shrubs and plants they can find. To simulate the endless number of options that a hippo may come across on the African savanna, the hippos at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park are provided with a wide variety of plant life that they can choose from daily.
What’s all of the hippo hullabaloo about? You’ll just have to hear it to believe it.
Honk If You Love Hippos
Grunts, snorts, clicks, growls—who knew a hippo could make so many different loud noises? The most common and distinctive hippo vocalization is a nasally wheeze followed by several guttural honks known as, you guessed it, “wheeze-honking.” Upon hearing this call, other hippos within earshot will send off a wave of the same braying sounds.
Looking a Little Red
That’s not sunburn! When hippos stay in the sun too long, they may start to look a little bit red. This is because the hippo’s sensitive skin oozes a thick liquid that contains red pigment when they are exposed to the harsh sun for long periods of time. Similar to suntan lotion, this substance actually protects the hippo’s skin.
A Bloat Afloat
Hippos live together in groups called bloats. While a bloat is usually made up of about 10 to 15 individuals, it is not unheard of for groups to include more than 100 hippos.
With the Grace of a Ballerina
While hippos may appear to be big and bulky on land, hippos are the epitome of grace when they are in the water. Because they are not buoyant, hippos can walk along the bottoms of rivers and lakes, holding their breath for up to 5 minutes. When it comes time to resurface, they use their webbed toes to push themselves above the water.
Can something still be a called a “shower” if it makes a smelly mess? It can if it’s a dung shower! When defecating, hippos will whirl their tail in circles like a propeller to dispel their feces in the water. This is just one of the many ways that hippos communicate with each other and identify their territory in a way that’s hard to ignore.
Did you know that hippos can open their mouths close to 180 degrees? While this may make it look like they are yawning, hippos with a wide, gaping mouth are far from sleepy! This behavior is a territorial display intended to assert dominance over other hippos and protect their private pools.
A Real Mouthful
Elephants aren’t the only savanna dwellers with tusks! Tusks are actually overgrown teeth, and a quick glance at a hippo’s open mouth reveals elongated lower canine teeth that are hard to miss! These teeth contain the same type of ivory found in elephant tusks and never stop growing. In fact, hippo tusks can grow up to 20 inches long.
Water dweller by day, land dweller by night. The amphibious hippo typically spends most of the day lounging in the water to stay cool. At night, they emerge in search of food, walking as far as 6 miles on land to find the perfect mix of grasses, leaves and bark.
What can you do to protect hippos and the wild spaces they rely on? A lot more than you might expect!
Protect Nature and Never Purchase Ivory
When traveling, be sure to avoid purchasing souvenirs that may harm wildlife—especially those made of ivory. The less of a demand there is for ivory, the safer creatures like hippos and elephants will be in the wild!
Support Conservation Organizations
While the African savanna may seem far away, you can still contribute to the protection of wildlife and wild places by supporting conservation organizations such as the Disney Conservation Fund. Disney matches Guest contributions 100% and it all goes directly to nonprofit organizations.
Learn More About Hippos
Visit an accredited zoo, go to a library, perform online research or do your next school project on hippos. Each time you share your newfound knowledge with friends and family, you raise awareness on the problems facing hippos in the wild and how we can make a difference!
The Walt Disney Company is committed to using resources wisely and protecting the planet. We conserve nature and inspire kids and families to join us in caring for our planet. Explore the websites below and learn how we are making the world a better place—and the many creative ways you can help make a real difference, too!
“I have learned from the animal world, and what everyone will learn who studies it, is a renewed sense of kinship with the Earth and all its inhabitants.” – Walt Disney