Mara Hippos ~ Sleeping Like Tops


It is fairly uncommon to catch hippos like this – snoozing ashore, though they may do it on sand banks in rivers. Their usual routine is to spend the night in the bush, roving far and wide and chomping masses of grass. Then at first light they start returning to the river so they can be well submerged in their watery territory before sun up. Their hides are  2 inches (5cm) thick, and although a red oily secretion gives some protection, they are very susceptible to over-heating and drying out. It can thus be fatal to find yourself between a river and a hippo intent on swift immersion.

We had our own alarming charging hippo encounter on the Luangwa River when we were living in Zambia. That story is HERE.

These particular sleeping hippos were caught on an early morning game drive, around 7 a.m. We drove right by them along a secluded stretch of the Mara River flood plain. Not an eye’s blink from any of them.



And the origins of the saying: to sleep like a top?

My Dictionary of Phrase and Fable tells me it relates to the children’s toy, the traditional wooden spinning top. Once well whipped into action, there is a point when the top seems perfectly still and silent.

And here’s an early 17th century usage:

“O for a pricke now like a nightingale, to put my breast against. I shall sleep like a top else.”

The Two Noble Kinsmen a play attributed to a John Fletcher – William Shakespeare collaboration.


Square Tops #5

36 thoughts on “Mara Hippos ~ Sleeping Like Tops

    1. I remember being totally confounded by the wooden one I was given as a sprog. But then I had problems pedalling my trike. And you’ve just made me remember: The Wooden Tops! Spotty dog and all.

      1. Good old Spotty! Simple things kept us happy 🙂 🙂 They still do! Searching desperately for a rainbow to dispel the gloom today. We should have been traveling to Leeds.

  1. I am thoroughly enjoying your Africa tops! As for wooden tops a) I could not manage to get those that you had a whip with to spin at all and b) I fell in love with Spotty Dog to the extent that in later years I did in fact have my own Dalmatian called Tessa – she was a rescue dog so came with her name.

  2. Oh, how wonderful capturing those beautiful beasts sleeping…. probably the best time to capture them too. When I first heard that they are not exactly friendly, I was so surprised! 😉 Beautiful shots! xoxo

      1. A lot better thanks. Although it’s over 4 weeks now and not yet back to full strength – still feeling the same strange aches and a general sense of fatigue. But fingers crossed I’m on the road to recovery. Must I wish the PM a full and speedy recovery too.

      1. A very old word for a very old toy. Back when children had but few toys. I wonder if “top” comes from “toupie”. 🙂
        Kwaheri sassa Tish.

  3. I love how you narrate your tales, way better than reading it from some travel blogs. Way better. I had an encounter with hippos in Lake Victoria some time back but not as scary as yours though.

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