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Hippos Are Commonly Carnivorous; New Findings May Explain Why Closest Living Relative of Whales Is Susceptible to Mass Mortality During Anthrax Outbreaks

People often think hippopotamuses are herbivores with big smiling faces. Every now and then, reports of a hippo hunting down prey, eating a carcass, or stealing prey from a crocodile are heard, but they're typically considered “aberrant” or “unusual” hippo behavior. Now, however, a collaboration among researchers from four continents demonstrates that carnivory, or eating meat, is not uncommon among hippos at all, and that this behavior may increase their susceptibility to mass mortality during anthrax outbreaks. Hippos, elephants, buffalo ,and antelope are often affected by anthrax epidemics, but anthrax outbreaks among hippos exhibit certain unusual characteristics that could be explained by consumption of the carcasses of infected animals, especially those of other hippos. "The phenomenon of carnivory by hippos is crucial to an understanding of their susceptibility to this disease," said Joseph Dudley, Ph.D., co-author of the new study that was published online on December 6, 2015 in an open-access article in Mammal Review. The article is titled “Carnivory in the Common Hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius: Implications for the Ecology and Epidemiology of Anthrax in African Landscapes.” "These reports fit the fact that hippos are the closest living relatives of whales, which are all carnivorous," added co-author Marcus Clauss, Ph.D.

[Press release] [Mammal Review article]