Territorial hippos make intimidating sounds while showing their teeth
When talking about scary noises coming from the African wild, it is common to think that the scariest noises might come from large predators such as lions, hyenas and leopards. Even elephant bulls can sound scary at times but few things beat the fearful and intimidating roars and grunts of two hippo bulls during a territorial display standoff.
It was during a late afternoon safari in the Kruger National Park when we came across a large dam and decided to spend some time observing the life in and around the water. The most prominent animals in the area were a small number of hippos in the water. While scanning around for birdlife and other potential smaller animals, we suddenly heard these nightmarish sounds coming from the other side of the dam. We drove around to investigate and came across two male hippos standing half body out the water facing each other. The one hippo bull was clearly way larger and older than the other and the two bulls was not happy with each other.
Hippos are very territorial and mature hippo bulls control a whole area such as the dam that we were at. Territorial bulls usually tolerate bachelor males within their domain as long as they behave submissively. There are times, as in this instance, that the mature bulls have to put these young rivals in their place with what is called dominance or threat displays. These displays involve yawning to show off their dangerous tusks, water scooping and head shaking, explosive exhalation accompanied by the scariest sounding grunting and roaring sounds. Watching this incredible display of dominance playing off in front of us was absolutely mind blowing while the noises send chills down our spines. The two hippo bulls continued with their showdown and scary noises until the young bull suddenly stopped, showing submissiveness in the end. Just like that the noises and jaw snapping stopped and the hippos returned back into the water as if nothing happened.