Nature – Hippos: Africa’s River Giants

Air date: 01/15/2020

Nature – Hippos: Africa’s River Giants

Premieres Wednesday, January 15 at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), and the PBS Video app


The hippopotamus has long been an enigma: an aquatic mammal that cannot swim, a vegetarian that is also the most dangerous animal in Africa. All hippos are utterly dependent on water, but in Botswana hippos face an unparalleled challenge as deep floodwaters dry to dust in a matter of months. This documentary goes beneath the surface to show how hippos protect their families and face their enemies, revealing an animal that is highly sensitive and surprisingly intelligent. Narrated by David Attenborough, Nature – Hippos: Africa’s River Giants uncovers the life and true nature of the hippo as never seen before. 

Featured Creatures:

  • Hippopotamus
  • Lion
  • Crocodile
  • Hyena
  • Fish Eagle
  • Pelican

Noteworthy Facts:

  • The dense structure of a hippo’s bones and the weight of its body make hippos unable to swim.
  • Hippos can’t breathe underwater; they must hold their breath to walk along the bottom of the delta. In order to catch a breath, the hippo will push off the bottom and rise to the surface to breathe.
  • Mating between hippos takes place within the shallows, where their heavy bodies are better supported. Mating can last up to 30 minutes.
  • Hippos have sensitive hearing, poor eyesight and a nervous nature which all lead to their skittish and aggressive behavior.
  • Pregnant hippos carry their calves for eight months. While pregnant, the female hippo will separate herself from the pod and find a quiet, shallow pool of water to give birth.
  • When the Okavango Delta dries up and food is scarce, hippos regurgitate grass from their stomachs and chew it again as a source of sustenance. This leads scientists to believe they may have a ruminating digestive system like cows.

Buzzworthy Moments:

  • A nomadic male hippo lurks around a dominant bull’s pool, where the bull spots the intruder and gets defensive of his pod. The dominant bull approaches the intruder and they begin gaping at each other until the bull defeats and chases the intruder away, leaving him with gruesome wounds.
  • Once a calf is several weeks old, the mother will bring it back to the pod to get it acquainted with the rest of the family. Returning to a pod with a new baby is risky, and once the mother gets past the dominant bull, her previous calf shows up wanting to check out her mother’s newest baby. The jealous older sibling starts pushing the baby around, causing the mother hippo to get aggressive and gape at her older calf until she runs off.
  • The nomadic hippo dies from his injuries. As crocodiles begin to feast on the hippo carcass, the dominant bull chases them away and inspects it. When night falls, hyenas drag the body to shore and begin to tear it apart. The crocodiles return for the carcass and stand off against the hyenas for access. The hippo pod hears the noise and scares everyone away from the corpse.

Long TV Listing:
Go beneath the surface and meet Africa’s river giants, the hippos. Discover an unexpected side of these aquatic mammals that can’t even swim as hippos protect their families, face their enemies and suffer in a drought. Narrated by David Attenborough.

Short TV Listing:
Uncover an unexpected side of hippos as they protect their young and face their rivals in a drought.

Running Time: 60 minutes

Series Overview:
Now in its 38th season on PBS, Nature is a voice for the natural world, bringing the wonders of wildlife and stories of conservation to millions of American viewers. The series has won more than 700 honors from the television industry, the international wildlife film communities and environmental organizations, including 18 Emmys and three Peabody Awards. Nature’s award-winning website,, features full episodes, short films, behind-the-scenes content, nature articles, educational resources and more. The series is available for streaming simultaneously on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS Video app, which is available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast. PBS station members can view episodes via Passport (contact your local PBS station for details).

Production Credits:
Nature is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET and PBS. For Nature, Fred Kaufman is Executive Producer. Bill Murphy is Series Producer and Janet Hess is Series Editor. Hippos: Africa’s River Giants is an Icon Films and Natural History Film Unit Botswana production for THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC and BBC in association with WNET. The documentary is produced, directed and filmed by Brad Bestelink. Harry Marshall is Creative Director, and Laura Marshall and Lucy Meadows are Executive Producers. Narrated by David Attenborough.

Support for this Nature program was made possible in part by The Arnhold Family in memory of Henry and Clarisse Arnhold, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, The Fairweather Foundation, the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, Kathy Chiao and Ken Hao, the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust, Charles Rosenblum, the Filomen M. D’Agostino Foundation, Rosalind P. Walter, Sandra Atlas Bass, Doris R. and Robert J. Thomas, by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and by Viewers Like You.


About WNET
WNET is America’s flagship PBS station: parent company of New York’s THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, the statewide public media network in New Jersey. Through its new ALL ARTS multi-platform initiative, its broadcast channels, three cable services (THIRTEEN PBSKids, Create and World) and online streaming sites, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to more than five million viewers each month. WNET produces and presents a wide range of acclaimed PBS series, including Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend, and the nightly interview program Amanpour and Company. In addition, WNET produces numerous documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings, as well as multi-platform initiatives addressing poverty and climate. Through THIRTEEN Passport and WLIW Passport, station members can stream new and archival THIRTEEN, WLIW and PBS programming anytime, anywhere.

# # #

For editorial use in North America only in conjunction with the direct publicity or promotion of NATURE, no other rights are granted. All rights reserved. Downloading this image constitutes agreement to these terms.

Two hippos aggressively fight, one defending his territory while the other seeks to challenge for the water pool. Credit: © The Natural History Film Unit Botswana

A relaxed bull hippo surfaces in the calm waters of a deep channel. Credit: © The Natural History Film Unit Botswana

A hippo calf walks next to its mother on the shore of a pool of water. Although she may have more calves, the young one will remain in her protection until it grows into a mature adult. Credit: © The Natural History Film Unit Botswana

A hippo in a pod peers out across the channel of the Khwai River in Botswana. Credit: © The Natural History Film Unit Botswana

Two young hippo calves bond and play in the waters next to their sleeping mother. Credit: © The Natural History Film Unit Botswana

Two hippos underwater. Hippos cannot swim and hold their breath underwater before rising to the surface to catch a breath. Credit: © The Natural History Film Unit Botswana

A hippo yawns to display aggression and hostility rather than sleepiness. Credit: © The Natural History Film Unit Botswana

An adult hippo play-fights with a juvenile, teaching the younger hippo to defend itself against dangers. Credit: © The Natural History Film Unit Botswana

A hippo swims through the waters of the Okavango Delta. California. Credit: © The Natural History Film Unit Botswana

Two hippos bob in the waters of the Okavango Delta. Credit: © The Natural History Film Unit Botswana