A journey to West Africa must include observing animal life. Although there are no “Big 5″ in The Gambia, there are over 500 bird species and many other animals to be spotted, which makes it a heavenly destination for animal lovers. Animal and bird-life is extremely diverse and exotic. Wildlife of the Gambia is dictated by several habitat zones over its total land area of about 10,000 square kilometers.
River Gambia National park offers an amazing experience and chance to look inside the natural environment of animals living in The Gambia. One of the most interesting is a giant hippopotamus, the second heaviest land mammal in the world. Their ecological systems range from lush jungle rainforest, reeds, savannah and mangrove swamps. Their dense bodies make it impossible for them to swim, even though they spend most of their time in the water.
From National Geographic
Hippopotamuses love water, which is why the Greeks named them the “river horse.” Hippos spend up to 16 hours a day submerged in rivers and lakes to keep their massive bodies cool under the hot African sun. Hippos are graceful in water, good swimmers, and can hold their breath underwater for up to five minutes. However, they are often large enough to simply walk or stand on the lake floor, or lie in the shallows. Their eyes and nostrils are located high on their heads, which allows them to see and breathe while mostly submerged.
Hippos also bask on the shoreline and secrete an oily red substance, which gave rise to the myth that they sweat blood. The liquid is actually a skin moistener and sunblock that may also provide protection against germs.
At sunset, hippopotamuses leave the water and travel overland to graze. They may travel 6 miles (10 kilometers) in a night, along single-file pathways, to consume some 80 pounds (35 kilograms) of grass. Considering their enormous size, a hippo’s food intake is relatively low. If threatened on land hippos may run for the water—they can match a human’s speed for short distances.
Hippo calves weigh nearly 100 pounds (45 kilograms) at birth and can suckle on land or underwater by closing their ears and nostrils. Each female has only one calf every two years. Soon after birth, mother and young join schools that provide some protection against crocodiles, lions, and hyenas.
Hippos once had a broader distribution but now live in eastern central and southern sub-Saharan Africa, where their populations are in decline.