Father/Son Hippo Fight!
Parental relationships can be as fraught in the animal world as they occasionally are in our human world.
Last night our resident pod of hippos serenaded us with the tunes of a father/son dispute. Throughout the night, the dominant male shouted at his truculent son, who muttered in hippo decibels by way of reply.
Dad (right) shouting at truculent son (left)
As dawn broke I headed down to our riverbank deck to see if anything would come of this conversation. My timing was lucky – whilst the “sweet light” wasn’t quite with me – the young male seemed to have had all the reprimanding he could stomach. Shortly after I reached the deck the small male first shouted in his Dad’s face…
Which he swiftly followed with a gutsy physical attack.
Dad wasn’t going to tolerate this insurgence without reply. The dominant male picked his son up in his wide, toothy gape time and again, lifting him into the air.
With a simple twist of his head, the dominant male would have inflicted fatal damage on this rebellious teenager. Given the apparent ferocity of the exchange, I was amazed to review my photos and see that the young male suffered only the most superficial of skin lacerations.
Suddenly, the matter seemed to be settled as the young hippo accepted defeat and within seconds of the small male having displayed his vulnerable neck, he crashed into the water and the father came to rest on his rump. They sat like that for a couple of minutes, resting and recuperating in what appeared to be companionable silence.
Then, seemingly to make sure he’d driven his message home, the dominant male vocalised, lifted his head and bit down on the young male’s rump, which set the youngster fleeing. This was the final image I had of them together before the son was “sent to his room” and they separated to opposite sides of the river.
Anthropomorphism –the interpretation of animal behaviour using human filters – is contentious in wildlife circles. However, I find the more time I spend witnessing animal interactions the harder it becomes not to draw these comparisons. As the young male hippo’s testosterone levels build and his biological instincts lead him to challenge the pod’s dominant male more often, he will most likely be kicked out of the family pod. However, watching the care the dominant took not to do damage – when they are usually so violent in their attacks – was enough to make me wonder. Was it an emotional bond or merely the biological drive to protect his gene pool that motivated such a careful dressing down?