Gigantic, formidably armed and prone to over-the-top displays such as dung-spraying and "wheeze-honking" (it really lives up to the name), hippos are uncontested rulers of sub-Saharan Africa's waterways. Often squabbling noisily amongst themselves, these titanic amphibious herbivores also direct their wrath towards any other creature that intrudes into their space or otherwise pushes their easily pushed buttons.

It's that testy territoriality that likely explains a dramatic incident recently caught on film in Kruger National Park. Mervyn and Tokkie Van Wyk were admiring the assembled wildlife at the Transport (or Vervoer) Dam – site of the 79-million-plus-views-and-counting "Battle at Kruger" – when they spotted a struggling wildebeest along the shoreline.

Locked around the hoof of its right hind leg? The jaws of a Nile crocodile. "This began a game of tug of war that lasted for around eight minutes," recalls Van Wyk, whose footage was posted to the Latest Sightings YouTube channel.

The nabbed gnu showed plenty of mettle, dragging the toothy lug affixed to its foot out of the waterhole and up onto the shore as a gaggle of other wildebeest and zebra watched with rapt attention. The croc, though, was equally dogged and eventually managed to heave the wildebeest into the shallows – not, needless to say, a very promising development from the antelope's perspective.

Fortunately for the wildebeest, though, the commotion had attracted more than just a land-based audience. Two hippos came nosing over to the contestants, surveyed the situation, and then rushed the crocodile – giving its victim the opportunity to dash free of those reptilian pincers and back up on land.

"We could not believe the rarity of this situation," Van Wyk told Latest Sightings. "I have never seen a hippo coming to the aid of another animal, it was simply astonishing."

Perhaps a surge of interspecies altruism did indeed seize the Transport Dam hippos, but more likely they simply objected to the hubbub in their backyard. Hippos and crocs generally share their aquatic digs without much drama, but while they might try snatching a young calf, the saurians are otherwise easily outmuscled by their mammalian neighbours. (Incidentally, is it really playing when only one animal wants to play?)

This wildebeest caught a lucky break, no question, though it must be said that a souvenir of a mangled hoof doesn't necessarily bode well for its long-term survival. And lest we leave you with the impression that hippos are always on Team Wildebeest, may we remind you of this hellish three-way documented in South Africa's Londolozi Game Reserve a few years back.

Unable to psychoanalyse the motives of a two-ton ungulate, we'll just go ahead and offer the following modest conclusions: (1) wildebeest are tough; (2) crocodiles have vice-like jaws; and (3) hippos – well, hippos are good at getting up in other animals' business.



Top header image: Pixabay