How Long Do Hippos Live?

Hippos are some of the largest land mammals in the world, but does this equal more longevity as well? Does captivity or the wild have a significant impact on their lifespan? Just how long do hippos live?

Generally speaking, common Hippos live for around 36 years but can reach up to 40 in the wild. They live longer in captivity, up to 50 years, with some even entering their 60s. Pygmy hippos only live around 27 years in the wild and 42 years in captivity. Their lives are susceptible to many threats like habitat destruction, human conflict, and poaching.

This post will find how long hippos live in the wild and captivity. We’ll also look at the many different factors that affect their lifespan.

Hippopotamus standing on land

What Is the Life Expectancy of Hippos in the Wild?

Hippos enjoy long lives in the wild, often reaching up to 40 years old. The median life expectancy, however, is slightly shorter at around 36.

Although they’re respected for their size, adults aren’t infallible; their young have to grow up somehow.

Reaching maturity is challenging for calves since they have to co-exist with other large predators in the same environment.

How Long Do Hippos Live In Captivity?

On average, hippos have a much longer lifespan in captivity and can easily reach 50.

A few individual hippos in captivity had even reached their 60s, with the oldest believed to be 65 when she died. 

As the above stats demonstrate, hippos generally have much longer lifespans in captivity than they do in the wild. 

The main reasons for this are that they don’t need to find food or protect themselves from external threats like predators and poachers. 

In other words, because their basic needs are met, and they’re not constantly expending energy on survival, they live much longer, less stressful lives.

How Long Do Pygmy Hippos Live?

Pygmy hippos live shorter lives on average than their Common hippo cousins.

In the wild, pygmy hippos typically only live for 27 years, while those living in captivity or with managed care may live up to 42 years.

Pygmy hippo in captive environment

How Old Is the Oldest Hippo?

Bertha holds the record for being the oldest known hippopotamus to have ever lived in captivity. When she died in 2017, at 65 years old, she had been living in Manila Zoo since 1959.

Donna is another hippopotamus that lived a remarkably long life. A fan favorite at Mesker Park Zoo in Indiana, Donna, was the world’s oldest captive hippo on record before Bertha took her place.

She was 61 years old when she passed away.

Meet Lucifer – The Oldest Living Hippo

The oldest known hippo is also a Hollywood star. If you’ve watched the Hollywood films “Cowboy in Africa” and “Daktari,” you’ve probably already seen Lucifer, the 61-year-old bull hippopotamus.

Lu was born in 1960 in San Diego. He co-starred with Ivan Tors Animal Actors and is now retired, living his best life at Homosassa Springs, taking photos with his fans.

How Old Is the Oldest Pygmy Hippo?

Hannah Shirley, the oldest living pygmy hippo in the world, celebrated her 48th birthday recently.

The team at Ramona Wildlife Center decided to celebrate this momentous occasion with a special tea party just for Hannah.

Pygmy Hippo Hannah's 48th Birthday Party Fail 😂

A Glimpse of Hippo’s Life Cycle

Hippos go through many different stages as they mature. Let’s see how a hippo grows from a baby to an adult.

Birth

Large mammals are pregnant for longer periods than smaller mammals. For example, an elephant is pregnant for almost 22 weeks, and giraffes are pregnant for around 15 months

In contrast to other large African animals, a hippo’s gestation period is only eight months, which is even shorter than the average human pregnancy.

Hippo calves, on average, weigh nearly 100 pounds at birth. They can suckle on land and underwater by closing their ears and nostrils while feeding. 

Each female generally gives birth to only one calf every two years, with twinning being a rare occurrence. 

When they are born, the mother hippos carry them to the surface to take their first breath of air.

Mothers protect babies from predators until they are strong enough to fend for themselves.

Calves

Hippo calves remain close to their mothers even when they can feed and play independently.

They do not leave their mothers until they are fully grown. Mother hippos nurse their calves for approximately eight months.

Curious baby hippo smelling piece of wood

Maturity

Female hippos sexually mature at age 5 to 6, while males take until around seven years. This is also when males leave their mothers.

Male hippos commonly join a group of hippos that recently lost their leader.

Dominant male hippos preside over small river sections and have mating rights with females in their area. Hippos mark their territory by spinning their tails to propel feces far away from them upon defecating.

What Are the Factors That Impact Hippos Life?

The wild hippopotamus faces many dangers that restrict its lifespan. The main factors that come into play are:

Habitat Loss and Degradation

The loss of habitat due to agricultural development and farming is a significant obstacle to the life of hippos in many countries.

Agricultural development and large-scale construction in and near wetlands are the leading causes of habitat loss.

Human populations are growing pressure on freshwater resources across Africa, which common hippo’s reliance on freshwater habitats puts them at odds with.

Consequently, this makes them more vulnerable.

Human Conflicts

Hippo population growth in restricted areas has fueled conflict in some agricultural regions.

In ten countries, reports of human-hippo conflicts have increased, often due to drought conditions. Conflicts with fishermen and gold miners have also been reported.

Conflicts of this nature often result in massive destruction on both ends.

Hundreds of hippos are killed yearly to save agricultural lands.

Illegal Poaching

If a country has many hippos living outside protected areas, their survival chances are much lower because nothing stops hunters

Illegal and unregulated hippo hunting is especially common during times of civil unrest.

The start of the 21st century was disastrous for Common Hippo populations in DR Congo. Intense hunting and years of civil unrest resulted in a 95% decline in their numbers.

Similarly, during the civil war in Mozambique from 1980-1992, military forces hunting hippos resulted in a decline of more than 70% of the hippo population.

Widespread poaching for meat has also been reported from Burkina Faso, Burundi, Ivory Coast, and South Sudan – as well as from politically stable countries like Zambia.

It’s hard to imagine a hippo living a peaceful life in the wild when they’re constantly hunted.

Hippopotamus wounded

Final Thoughts on How Long Can Hippos Live

Hippos in the wild have an average lifespan of 36 years, but they can live up to 40. In captivity, however, they’ve been documented living into their 50s and 60s. 

Pygmy hippos only survive around 27 years in the wild or 42 in captivity. 

Both species’ lives are threatened mainly by habitat destruction due to human conflict and poaching, which is why they need to help conserve these unique creatures in their natural homes, where they will be undisturbed.

FAQs

How Many Babies Do Hippos Have in a Lifetime?

Generally speaking, hippos give birth to a single baby every two years. Females reach maturity between the ages of 5-6. With an average lifespan of around 36 years, they can feasibly give birth to a maximum of around 15 babies during their lifetime.

How Do Hippos Get Pregnant?

Although hippos typically mate in the water, they can do so on land if necessary. The female is submerged by the male for most of the process and can only take a quick breath at surface level every now and then. They utilize their natural buoyancy to help mate while in the waters.

Why Do Hippos Live Long in Captivity?

The primary reason is that captive hippos don’t need to expend energy on things like finding food or protecting themselves from predators and poachers. They live much longer lives because their basic needs are met in captivity. Additionally, captive hippos have access to medical attention, which they wouldn’t otherwise have in the wild.