Historically, it is said that hippopotamuses occurred through parts of the Little Karoo, but only in small pods due to the scarcity of grazing and fluctuating water levels. On Sanbona Wildlife Reserve we see that our hippos follow this trend. Although the Bellair Dam is very large, it houses only a small pod, leaving solitary males to roam through the river lines between watering holes.
Hippo bulls are territorial animals, fighting for water and grazing, marking their territories by spraying their dung with quick swishes of their tails.
Over the last few months one of the younger solitary bulls has been coming into the territory of the dominant bull. His home is far enough from the Bellair Dam; however, the grazing available is becoming less as winter draws to a close. These encroachments have resulted in the bulls fighting, leaving the younger bull scarred and injured. Two rangers, guiding out of Dwyka Tented Camp with their guests, came across the dominant bull walking towards the younger bull in his watering hole, just after the sun had set.
The guides and their guest sat and watched in awe as something that could only be described as a documentary moment unfolded in front of them. The hippos fought, bighting each other, breaching out of the water, trying to drown each other, whilst waves crashed against the shores of the watering hole. After a while the guides left to drop their guests at the lodge for dinner before returning to watch and hoping that the young bull would survive. After a battle that lasted an hour both bulls were exhausted, the dominant bull left the victor, the younger was injured but alive.
Nature is not always beautiful and peaceful, but the power in these animals leaves one in awe and with immense respect for them. On safaris one never knows what is waiting around the next corner, if you are lucky you might encounter a battle of bulls.
Blog by Ranger, Pascale Swanepoel