How Fast Can a Hippo Run?



Hippos are one of the most dangerous animals in the world, and if you stumble upon one, fleeing the scene is probably your best bet, but how fast can a hippo run?

Hippos may look sluggish due to their size, but they are pretty fast, reaching speeds of 20 mph (32 kph) on land and 5 mph (8 kph) underwater. This speed is enough to beat a human on land and in the water. The best way to avoid being chased by a hippo is to keep your distance and move uphill or retreat if necessary.

In this article, we’ll look further at the top speed of hippos and how to escape an altercation if you are chased.

Hippopotamus running in the Savannah

How Fast Can Hippos Run On Flat Land?

While it’s true that hippos look obese and sluggish, that is only partially accurate. They are both fat and fast

The average weight of a hippo falls between 1.5-4 tons (or 3000-8000 pounds). Their speed is even more impressive; they can still run quite quickly despite their size.

Hippos are deceptively fast animals, reaching up to 20 mph (32 kph) on flat ground

It is hard to imagine how such a large and stocky animal can move so quickly, but they do.

It’s amusing to watch a hippo run, but not if you’re their intended target. Their gait looks like a gallop, even though they don’t lift all four limbs simultaneously.

This supports the translation of their Greek name, “River Horse.

How Fast Can Hippos Run Under Water?

Surprisingly hippos are terrible swimmers. They do not know how to swim. Even though they live a semi-aquatic lifestyle and are equipped with webbed feet, they walk underwater.

Hippos typically “bounce” or “push off” the river or lakebed as they move forward. They sink to the bottom and then propel themselves forward.

In this way, they can travel underwater; however, it is not as fast as on land. Still, hippopotamus can get up to 5 mph (8 kph) in water.

Hippos can hold their breath underwater for a short while, so they must come up to the surface every few minutes to breathe. Then they move again for a little distance before they surface again.

These water-loving animals also have a natural reflex that enables them to sleep in the water. They come up for air and sink back down again without waking up.

How Long Can a Hippo Run at Top Speed?

Hippos are not known for their stamina, as they can only sprint at top speed for a maximum of half a minute.

They are also poor jumpers. Hills and slopes make it difficult for them to move quickly, so if a hippo is chasing you, the best course of action is to head uphill.

Why Do Hippos Have to Run on Land?

Hippos are huge and robust, so they rarely have predators in the wild. 

Hippos love to splash in the water and cool their bodies in the hot sun, but they also have plenty to do on land. 

Why would they ever need to run?


Feeding is the common reason for these river horses to get on shore. They have a huge appetite and spend five to six hours grazing about 80 pounds of grass each night. 

They may travel as far as 6 miles along a single-file pathway to find food. 

While traveling on land, it’s common to see hippos gallop like horses.

Hippopotamus eating grass


Moreover, environmental changes always occur in Africa, causing the displacement of animals. 

Hippos are not excluded from it and sometimes migrate when water resources are insufficient.

In some cases, they have been recorded to travel around 30 miles for suitable watering holes or rivers.


If a hippo is sprinting, it is likely because it feels threatened. Yawning is the first sign it displays to scare off predators or humans, but trouble awaits them if they don’t take the hint.

When hippos feel threatened by a predator or human, they will increase their land speed to chase them away or scare them off.

Hippopotamus in the water with its mouth wide open

Can a Human Outrun a Hippo?

Regular people (not athletes) running for their lives could reach about 12 mph (19 kph), which isn’t much compared to a hippo’s 20 mph (32 kph).

However, things don’t seem so bad when we look at the world’s fastest humans.

The record for the quickest a human has ever run belongs to Usain Bolt. Back in 2009, reaching an incredible 27.8 mph (44.7 kph).

To summarize, it is improbable for a human to beat a hippo in a race unless you happen to be an Olympic sprinter and the terrain conditions are perfect for sprinting.

Can a Human Outswim a Hippo?

Hippos can travel in water at a speed of up to 5 mph (8 kph). Unless you’re an Olympic swimmer, you don’t stand a chance of outswimming a hippo.

Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps can swim at a top speed of 6 mph (10 kph)

The average person swimming in a pool moves much slower at only 2 mph (3 kph), or the equivalent of taking 56 seconds to swim 50 meters.

What to Do if a Hippo Is Chasing You in Water?

Unless you are a professional swimmer, there is no comparison between the human speed in water and that of a hippo. 

However, not everyone is so lucky when they come across a hippo. So, follow these simple tips to avoid altogether encountering a hippo.

  • Make your presence known to hippos when you spot them, even at a distance.
  • Use a hand or tool to hit the sides of the boat or strike the water to leave a track so that the hippo may not come that way.
  • When you spot a hippo going under the water, continue making noise so it knows where you are. If it surfaces again, it won’t be right under your boat.
  • Immediately retreat and get as far from the hippo as possible if it yawns because that’s a sign you’re getting too close. 

What to Do if a Hippo Is Chasing You on the Land?

Hippos can be deadly on land or water, so take care if you find them near you. If you find yourself in that situation, follow these tips:

  • To avoid a hippo chase, have a clear and wide vision, especially around waterways with little space.
  • Avoid tight spaces where hippos live, as they are typically claimed by hippos who have already been pushed out of their territory.
  • Avoid those areas on land where you find dung spread around because it is how they mark areas to use at night in search of food.
  • If you don’t want to get trampled by a hippo in your sleep, avoid making camp and lighting fires near where they commonly travel at night.
  • If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to outrun a hippo, forgo trying to run in a perfectly straight line
  • Capitalize on vehicles or other obstacles to break its momentum. With some distance between you and the animal, there’s a greater chance it will stop chasing you.
  • No matter how tempted you are, never approach a hippo calf – their mothers will attack if they feel threatened.
  • Run uphill where possible if a hippo is chasing you.

Final Thoughts On Hippos Top Speed

Hippos are one of nature’s most impressive athletes, reaching speeds both on land (20 mph) and water (5 mph) that would easily beat a human.

Therefore, it is best to avoid coming close to these giants and maintain a safe distance.


How Quickly Can a Hippo Swim?

Although they possess webbed feet and live a semi-aquatic lifestyle, hippos are not good swimmers. They usually “bounce” or push off the river or lakebed to move forward at an astonishing speed of 5 mph (8 kph).

Can a Hippo Jump?

Although hippos have a relatively good speed, this is not what allows them to jump. They can’t jump because of their immense weight.

Can a Hippo Survive in the Ocean?

No, Hippos would sink. Since most mammals are already buoyant, you would think hippos wouldn’t have to worry about sinking. However, they will still sink in seawater. Seawater is only 2.5% denser than freshwater, meaning there isn’t much extra buoyancy provided.

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