Not much gets the adrenaline pumping more than a sunset cruise on one of Africa’s rivers, where lazing hippos and camouflaged crocodiles are around every bend. The Peace Parks team head out on a boat to explore the waterways of the Kasai River in Zambia’s Simalaha Community Conservancy. This provides them with a chance to explore the area from a different angle and allow for some unique photographic opportunities from the water. It’s not long until their sunset cruise comes to an abrupt halt as they find themselves eye-level with a feisty, territorial hippo bull.

Hippos are plentiful across southern Africa, and large pods can often be seen lazing about in one spot. Spending up to 16 hours a day in the water, it is no wonder that their name has been derived from an ancient Greek word meaning ‘river horse’. Despite their sizeable barrel-like appearance and whopping weight, hippos have various adaptations that help to swiftly propel them on land and in water, reaching speeds of up to 30km/hour. However, don’t be fooled by their cute appearance, as these highly territorial herbivores kill more humans than any of Africa’s large mammals.

The team continues their river cruise passing small fishing villages dotted along the banks of the Kasai River. Many villagers can be seen fishing from small dug-out canoes called mokoros. Through this, they provide food for their families as well as earn an additional source of income. Gordon Homer, Peace Parks’ Project Manager for the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, explains that hippos mark their territory by spinning their tail whilst defecating, a process that releases micro-organisms into the water. These provide nutrients that support the healthy fish population in rivers, which supports the local birdlife and local communities dependent on the fish for protein.

Hippo populations have come under increasing pressure over the last decade as human settlements continue to grow and encroach on their habitat, which is now mainly confined to protected areas such as this one. Peace Parks Foundation recognises the need to protect these four-toed mammals by engaging with communities and mitigating human-wildlife conflict, reducing habitat loss and creating protected, safe spaces.