These two are the largest, fiercest and sometimes the angriest mammals in the world. Both elephants and hippos have been known to chase off and even kill lions, the so-called kings of the jungle. So, it’s perfectly normal to wonder what would happen if they ever came face to face while roaming the plains of Africa.
Who will win an elephant vs hippo fight?
In an elephant vs hippo standoff, the elephant always wins. There is no doubt that elephants are too big and too intelligent to lose in this fight. The interesting fact is that hippos know they can’t bring one down, so they never pick fights with elephants.
On one side, we have a massive herbivore that can still kill any animal if it wants to and stomp away on smaller animals without missing a beat. The other contender is a massive, semi-aquatic beast that is fiercely territorial and kills without regard.
Let’s break down the facts about this battle and see who wins.
Elephants and hippos live in and around the same range in Africa. Sure, their homes are different – elephants prefer savannas, forests and grasslands, and hippos live in and around lakes and swamps.
Elephants don’t mind hot and dry climates but need access to drinking and bathing water. On the other hand, hippos have absolutely no tolerance for heat, so they live in wet environments with plenty of water around where they can swim and cool off as and when they please. While hippos stay near these water bodies and are very territorial about their home, elephants roam the African savanna looking for food and water and minding their business.
Let’s learn more about the contestants.
Elephants are the foundation of the African ecosystem and global ecology. These mammals have incredible tusks, outstanding intelligence, and scary trunks, and they are also the largest land animals in the world.
Their prehistoric ancestors, the mammoths, were impressively massive. Elephants these days are smaller, but not by much. Check out these three living species and prepare to be awed:
- African forest elephant
- African bush elephant
- Asian elephant
The hippopotamus, i.e., the hippo, is a large mammal that lives in sub-Saharan Africa, spending most of its time in shallow waters and rivers. While elephants are the biggest land mammals, hippos come third in that list after rhinoceros. The Hippopotamidae family has two members:
- Common hippopotamus
- River hippopotamus
The funny thing is that despite their love for the water, hippos are crappy swimmers. So, you’ll only see them near shallow bodies of water.
And even though they’re land animals, elephants are excellent at swimming. They can swim for hours, cooling down and relieving the stress of their massive bodies on their joints and muscles.
Size & Appearance
As we have already established, elephants and hippos are both very large animals.
A hippo can weigh anywhere between 3000 lbs. to 4000 lbs. and grow up to 5 feet high. They are also around 15 ft long and, in some cases, even longer! They are enormous and very dangerous.
Then we have the elephant. It can weigh 6000 lbs. to 12000 lbs. and grow as high as 12 ft. Some elephants can measure 21 ft. long. These creatures are humongous and a right match for hippos.
Let’s explore the differences in their appearance.
Elephants are known for their thick gray-colored skin that’s covered in hair. The males of the species are much larger than the females. But both have large ears, a long trunk and tusks that can get as big as 6 ft. The massive ears help the animal fan itself to cool down in the savannah heat, but it can also be used as a tool for communication among the members of an elephant herd.
Hippos have thick, hairless skin that almost feels like rubber. They also have tusks – but stubby ones that aren’t a match for elephant tusks that are very effective weapons. They are also unique because of sexual dimorphism, making it hard to distinguish between male and female hippos.
When it comes to size and appearance, elephants are clear winners!
Elephants and hippos are poles apart when it comes to the way they behave generally.
Elephants are pretty much always calm, collected, and intelligent. They display good social bonding and always stay with their family and herd. This strong sense of family comes in handy when help is needed dealing with a predator or looking after elephant babies.
Hippos are the muscle of the jungle – not very intelligent and always ready to charge. They are also very sensitive about their territory and will drive other animals away even if they are just there to drink some water. In fact, there have been instances where hippos attacked the humans observing them because they felt threatened. But can you really blame these animals? After all, they share the environment with snakes, crocodiles and alligators. The temper is somewhat justified; at least, we think so.
Even in this category, the elephant is the clear winner. They use their intelligence and take the time to understand their enemy’s intentions.
Speed And Power
Hippos are incredibly fast, especially for their size, reaching up to 30 km per hour. However, they can only maintain this speed for a short time and run shorter distances, which is still pretty intimidating if you are the target.
The elephant is much larger than a hippo, but it is by no means slow. It can charge at a top speed of 40 km per hour. A charging elephant is a dangerous thing to behold. A quick search on YouTube will show you plenty of videos of elephants totally losing it on huge trucks and cars, turning them over with one push.
Hippo power lies in its massive teeth. It has a bite force greater than 1800 PSI, and the teeth can be over a foot long. There have been reports of a hippo snapping a crocodile in half. Elephants don’t really use their teeth as weapons.
Now let’s consider how good their senses are. This is important because a good fighter will sense the attack before it comes on and preempt the opponent’s moves. Hippos win this round—thanks to their excellent sense of smell and great eyesight, both in water and on land. They can also hear pretty decently.
Elephants aren’t bad though—their hearing and smelling senses are quite respectable. They can smell food from miles away.
Overall, the hippos win this round. They can see better, and their bite is to be feared.
Predators have feelings too – they don’t want to put themselves at risk needlessly. Large animals like our contenders are quite threatening, keeping them safe from others who’s like to feast on them.
And it is interesting to note that both creatures are herbivores, but neither has any problem going into battle and laying carnage to defend its territory, its babies and its friends.
By now, we’ve figured out that their fighting prowess lies in offensive moves. For example, elephants can use their sheer size to their advantage and stomp on any animal they find annoying. They weigh a lot, and despite it, it isn’t easy to outrun them. And their intelligence makes them a formidable foe for lightning-fast cheetahs, lions and other predators of the jungle.
Elephants are also known to use their tusks as spears and impale their enemies, creating shockingly brutal scenes and a reputation for slaying enemies. And lastly, they also batter their enemies with brutal headbutts.
And on the other hand, we have very aggressive hippos known for just trampling their enemies. They also bite, snag and drag animals into the water to drown them. Vicious.
Both animals have effective offences and defences. This one’s a tie.
The Winner – Elephants
So, it’s clear that in an elephant vs hippo fight, the former wins. When full-grown adults from both species come across each other, a hippo is no match for an elephant.
Now, there is no denying that hippos are one of the deadliest animals to roam the earth. They also account for an alarmingly large number of human deaths. And let’s not forget about all the disease-carrying insects they give haven to. They have no predators; they are too much trouble to hunt. Even the hyenas and crocodiles that live in and around the same rivers leave them alone.
And despite their reputation as a murder machine, they usually steer clear of elephants.
They are clearly smart enough not to pick a fight with elephants and know that their future only involves getting knocked over, trampled or gored to death if they mess with them. Even in a successful ambush, the elephant could easily spear its tusk through a hippo’s rubbery skin, causing massive damage and instant death in most cases.
And that’s why these two creatures of the African jungle tend to leave each other alone in relative peace.