Hippos do not come as advertised. You know—fat, flabby, clumsy and slightly goofy. No. And don’t even entertain the dancing-in-pink-tutu image.
Real hippos, the kind that actually live and breathe in Africa, are huge, hard, fast, and aggressive. They kill 2,000 to 3,000 people each year, more than lions, leopards, and crocodiles combined.
And they taste great.
Local members of the Kasika and Impalila Conservancies graze their cattle in the drying wetlands of the Zambezi/Chobe rivers’ floodplains, where hippos can cause trouble. Rising suddenly from the river bottom, the massive aquatic mammals upend tippy watos (dugout canoes). While grazing on shore at night, hippos sometimes trample and bite herders. The dozen massive fighting teeth in a hippo’s mouth aren’t used exclusively for battling rival hippos; one chomp and a human is mush.
So the locals bite back. And make money in the process. To keep hippos from getting too cheeky or overly abundant, the Conservancies sell a few hunting permits to Professional Hunters, like Jamy Traut Safaris, each year. The PHs, under the direction of local Game Scouts, guide adventurers on hippo hunts. The hunter gets his adventure and a few teeth as mementos. The PH and Game Scouts get jobs. Camp cooks, cleaners, managers, skinners, and trackers get jobs. The Conservancy gets funds for maintaining and enhancing wildlife habitat.
And tribal members get hippo meat. Lots of hippo meat. The bull I shot weighed an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 pounds. It was 13 feet long, tip of tail to end of two-foot-wide nose.
This bull did not come easily. The first day on the river we didn’t even see a hippo. The second day we got attacked by one. Brazen hippos have discovered they’re safe along the Botswana shore where no hunting is allowed. From this redoubt they lunge out to attack tourist boats and wato fishermen alike.
On the Namibian side where we could hunt, we heard hippo barking and roaring deep in reed beds. Hiding. From us. They only come out at night. We waited for them one evening until nearly dark, the scope reticle still clearly visible against their dark heads. But we couldn’t positively identify an old bull. We didn’t want to shoot a cow, so we backed out.
On our final day we arose extra early in an attempt to catch a bull before it wriggled deep into the reeds. A massive hippo head ducked under mid-channel as we came round a bend. Game Scout and PH agreed this was the one.
We beached the boat, sneaked down the shore, set the Kimber Caprivi on a portable bipod atop a high sand bank, and waited. Hippo popped up for a peek. Three minutes later, another quick look. Up. Down. Quick, cautious, periscoping peeks. I timed them and finally got a shot as the bull paused a split second too long, the Leupold Grand Slam reticle steady between ear and eye. Brain shot with a 300-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, he instantly sank. Some 85 minutes later, bloated by intestinal gas, he bobbed up, stone dead.
The locals came with knives and axes and butchered him in the shallows. As promised, there was no fat on him. All muscle. We begged a sample bit of backstrap. Yes, it was tough, just like the hippo that grew it, but delicious. No wonder locals prize it.