Takeover

Sabi Sand · October 2018
By Marc Eschenlohr
Senior Field Guide

Animals, particularly males, are often fighting for dominance. Dominance over females and dominance of territory. It is a tale as old as time that younger stronger males sometimes decide to take their chances and chase a dominant male from his territory.

This story that follows is the amazing sighting we caught whilst at Pios Crossing in the Sand River, of a bull hippo losing his precious stretch of river.

As we were crossing the river we got a warning charge by a bull hippo with the resident dominant bull in the distance making his way to the water from the embankment. I recognised this charging bull as new since he was missing a canine tooth, a feature not seen in any of the others in this pod. The older, resident dominant bull charged his way forward towards this intruder with an unfamiliar grunting sound. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – a fight was imminent! Finally, now face to face, the bulls clashed with wide open gaping mouths. Jumping, pushing and fighting, each sought to prove who was stronger, and who should rightfully rule this stretch of water. Sadly, succumbing to the realisation that he was the weaker one, the previously dominant bull turned around and showed his back to the other bull. With this move the younger bull began biting at the older bull’s flanks and drew blood.

Tired and feeling defeated, the older bull began to make his way to the river embankment, the younger bull then gave chase and pushed him completely out the water onto land.

Because hippos are territorial in the water they will protect an area and allow the presence of females and juveniles but will not tolerate another large bull. Therefore, with this move of forcing the dominant bull out he has won the territory.

The older bull will now likely move onto another part of the reserve far away and continue to live his life in solitude. This was quite a touching moment as this once dominant bull who would have been successful in protecting his territory for a number of years, walked away as the loser.

By Marc Eschenlohr
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