How fast can a hippo go?

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Hippos are fascinating creatures. Are they whales, cows, or both? Despite their stocky appearance, hippos are actually quite robust. They seem to have a reputation for being cute and lively (probably because of their rounded features), but anyone would think that's wrong, especially when they're being chased at breakneck speed. Let's take a look at these giants and learn: How fast can a hippo go?

How fast can a hippo go?

Hippos look fat and slow, but that's only half true – hippos are fat and fast! Hippos weigh an average of 3,500 pounds, making them one of the largest animals in the world. In fact, the only large land animal is the elephant. How fast can a hippo go?

On average, hippos can reach speeds of up to 30 mph. It's hard to imagine how an animal the size of a hippo can run so fast, but it's true! Since hippos spend most of their lives in the water, running is not something they do very often. Still, they are capable of running at breakneck speed when needed.

It's pretty fun to watch the hippos run (unless you're the one they're chasing). Their gait is more like a gallop, making their translation of the Greek name "hippopotamus" more believable.

On land, hippos can run up to 30 miles per hour and can often keep up with cars and trucks.

In the video above, you can see a hippo feeling threatened by a large hunting truck. Without much hesitation, it was able to increase its speed to a gallop and catch up to the vehicle. Once they drive away, the hippos can follow behind the car, showing how easy it is for hippos to pick up speed when needed.

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When does a hippo need to run?

We've found the answer to the question "how fast can hippos run?", but why would these fat pachyderms need to do this in the first place?

Hippos typically spend most of their time in the water, but come to land for a number of reasons.

The most common reason hippos come to land is to forage at night. They spend about 5-6 hours a day grazing, mostly at night when the sun is down and not too severe. They have a range of up to 2 miles in search of grass, sometimes away from water (where they are most comfortable). When traveling on land, hippos are often seen trotting or cantering in a similar fashion to horses.

In addition, their habitats undergo extensive environmental changes that occasionally cause their fauna to migrate. Hippos are no exception, often being forced to migrate long distances when the rivers, swamps or lakes in which they live dry up. In some cases, hippos have been recorded traveling up to 30 miles in search of suitable water holes or rivers.

If the hippo is running at full speed, it may be threatened in some way. There are some clear signs that a hippo feels threatened. Yawning is usually the first signal to show their large teeth and size. If a predator or unwary person doesn't take the cue, the hippo may give chase with the intent to intimidate or kill. These defenses are really the only times when the hippo is running at full speed.

How fast can hippos swim?

how fast can a hippopotamus run
Hippos come to land to graze and migrate.

© Jamin/Creative Commons

Oddly enough, hippos are really poor swimmers. They are very large with thin and thick legs. This interesting combination results in them being unable to tread water for very long. They do have webbed feet, but this tiny adaptation doesn't make up for their bulky size and odd shape.

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But how do they move in the water? Well, hippos usually "bounce" along the river or lake bed when the river bed gets deeper. As shallow water creatures, they spend most of their time where they can stand. However, when they venture into deeper water, they sink, push off the bottom, and then move forward a bit. Small jumps allow them to traverse deeper areas, though not very quickly. Using this bouncing action, they can reach speeds of 5 mph in the water.

Can a human outrun a hippopotamus?

what hippos eat
Humans run at an average speed of 12-15 mph, not fast enough to outrun a hippo.

© nataliatamkovich/

Given the hippo's top speed (about 30 mph), the prognosis doesn't look good for humans. Let's take a closer look, though.

The average person can reach a top speed of 12-15 mph. For reference, that would be a 4:36 mile, an impossible feat for almost anyone. However, we're talking about sprints here. For athletes, 15 mph is about as fast as it gets. Most people who play high school or college sports can reach speeds above 100 meters, but only for about 14 seconds.

However, looking at the fastest man in the world, things look a little better. Usain Bolt sets the fastest speed record ever recorded by man. He briefly hit 27.5 mph in 2009 when he set a world record in the 100-meter dash. However, that pace was brief and didn't hold up throughout the run.

So, looking back, unless you're actually Usain Bolt racing a tired hippo, it seems unlikely that a human could outrun a hippo in a race. Better to climb a tree.

Can a human swim a hippopotamus?

How fast can a hippo go?
Hippos can swim at 5 mph, but the average human can only swim at 2 mph.

© cloudzilla / Creative Commons

We've covered running, but what about swimming? This is probably more likely because hippos are really poor swimmers. Let's look at some numbers.

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The average swimmer without training or preparation can reach speeds of about 2 mph. In short, it's not enough to escape an angry hippo. Let's look at some others.

Professional swimmers nationwide have reached speeds of up to 5.3 mph in a pool environment. With a little fear, they might be able to swim a little faster. If the races were only in open water, it looks like the professional swimmers might be slightly faster than the hippos.

Ultimately, you'll need to be a professional swimmer in an ideal environment to beat the hippopotamus in a water race. Lessons learned? Don't race with hippos.


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Hippo rushes towards the camera with its mouth open
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about the author

Colby Maxwell

Colby is a freelance writer from Charlotte, North Carolina. When he's not distracted by the backyard bird feeder, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone around him what he's learned recently. There's a whole world to learn, and Colby is content to spend his life learning as much of it as he can!

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