The premise of Sarah Gailey’s insanely fun new novella, River of Teeth, is that there are killer feral hippos in the Mississippi, and someone has to deal with them. Since I just released a novel that featured killer feral hogs, I loved her idea, and once I read it, I loved it even more. So much so that I asked Sarah to do a guest blog and correct some preconceptions about hippos that we all might share.
Q: Are hippos friendly?
A: Hippos are 0% friendly. They are mean and aggressive and do not like to be bothered. Do not bother hippos, because the hippos will bother you back, and they will bring 3000 pounds of bother when they do.
Q: Could a person really ride a hippo?
A: Sure! Hippos have broad backs and a hard time turning their heads very far around. If a person (say, a hippopotamus-riding cowboy) were to raise and train a hippo from a very, very young age, that person could conceivably strap a kneeling saddle to the hippo’s back and ride it in grand style.
Do not try this at home. 3000 pounds of bother, remember?
Q: But hippos can’t eat meat, right?
A: Oh, but they can. Biologist Joseph Dudley recorded hippos eating impalas, kudus, wildebeest, zebras, other hippos, and even elephants. And they’re good at it: hippos can take animals down if they’re hungry, or even if it just seems like a ripe opportunity for them to try a taste of wildebeest. They even do it in captivity, seemingly out of boredom — the flamingoes in the hippo pen at the zoo don’t always last long. It’s not great for the hippo’s health, but they do it anyway. A desperate hippo — or even a not-so-desperate hippo — will be more than happy to taste blood.
Q: Oh, shit.
Q: But hippos don’t really kill people, right?
A: They kill 2,900 people per year on average. To put that in perspective, about 5 people per year die around the world from shark attacks. About 58 people per year die from bees (I would say ‘bee stings’ but my source isn’t clear on what the bees did. Maybe they had switchblades, I don’t know). So, according to my very scientific math, it would take 10 bull sharks with angry bees shooting out of their eyes to equal the deadliness-quotient of a single hippopotamus.
Q: Oh, shit.
A: I know. Don’t go in the water. Or if you do, wear a beekeeper outfit just in case.
Q: But it’s not like they, um —
A: Yes they do. They do. The thing you are afraid of? They do it. Don’t come at me about hippo biology, I’m ready for you. You have a knife? That’s cute. They have two sets of fighting incisors coming straight out of their face, and those aren’t even the scary teeth.
Q: But what if I —
A: You have a motorboat? Neato. They can run across the bottom of a river at 30 miles per hour. How fast can your motorboat go? How fast can you swim? If it’s slower than 30 miles per hour, you’d better hope that wake in the water is one bull shark with eye-bees coming after you, because if it’s not then you’re hippo-kibble.
Q: Oh no, this hippo is injured! See, he’s bleeding! We should go help him.
A: STOP RIGHT THERE, BUCKO. That’s not blood, it’s blood-sweat. It’s a fine layer of blood-looking mucous that acts as a sunscreen and a natural antibiotic. You can tell it’s not blood because when they have blood on them, it washes off in the water, but the blood-sweat stays put. They often have blood on them.
Q: …What about Fiona?
Don’t let the bubble-chasing fool you. She’s practicing for the day she can finally pursue the most dangerous game: man.
Sarah Gailey is an internationally published author of fiction and nonfiction, and a regular contributor for Tor.com and Barnes & Noble. She tweets @gaileyfrey. Learn more at www.sarahgailey.com.