The Lake Monsters of Naivasha

Lake Naivasha is a freshwater lake 93 km northwest of Nairobi. It’s one of Kenya’s many national parks, home to over 400 species of birds and a thriving population of hippopotami. Indulge me as I type out hippopotami again.

We arrived at our lakeside campground around dusk on day 3 of our overland East Africa tour. It had already been an eventful day, considering we woke up before dawn for an animal-packed safari in Masai Mara National Park. Most of the crew spent the next day exploring the area on cycling or walking tours of Hell’s Gate National Park, but a few of us decided to relax in the camp.

As it happens, the excitement came to us.

2 hippopotami emerge from Lake Naivasha, Kenya

The lake monsters arise from the swamp

A pod of hippopotami slowly emerged along the water’s edge. They patiently grazed on grass as a crowd of campers ogled from afar. We were warned to keep a generous distance, as they are deceptively agile despite their great size. Legend has it that a member of a previous tour had her spine broken by the powerful jaw of a territorial hippo. I couldn’t tell if that was a yarn spun by our tour leader to get us to pay attention to the warning, but it seemed plausible, as hippos kill more people than any other animal in Africa (aside from mosquitoes).

Of course, not everyone got the memo. A grade-A “Safari Hat” (a rant for another day) decided that his camera’s telephoto lens wasn’t getting him close enough to the action, so he wandered  beyond the warning signs, electric fence, and well past common sense for a closer look. Somebody from our group called out to explain his mortal danger.

Now, he could have simply turned around and walked back the way he came. Even smarter, he could have backed up while keeping his eyes on the gigantic killing machines ahead of him. Instead, Mr Safari Hat bucked convention and just grabbed the wires of the electric fence. Our bemusement with him turned to shock, but fortunately, the fence did not. Instead of receiving a lethal current of amperes, he squeezed between the wires, though not without tangling the camera dangling around his neck with the fence.

Don’t be a Safari Hat. Don’t approach the hippopotami. Don’t grab the electric fence.

Hippo emerging from Lake Naivasha, Kenya

Hippos are not very good at camouflage

Hippo emerges from Lake Naivasha

Hippo with swamp mud on his back, at Lake Naivasha, Kenya

Dude, you got a little something on your back

Cute hippo at Lake Naivasha

This hippo is kinda cute

Hippopotamus flashing its powerful jaws in campsite at Lake Naivasha, Kenya

Yikes. Did I say cute? I meant terrifying! Run!

Hippopotamus flashing its teeth in campsite at Lake Naivasha, Kenya

Those teeth are for eating grass? I’m not buying it.

Camper Chris observing hippos from atop a picnic table at Lake Naivasha campground in Kenya

Chris exhibiting appropriate hippo caution

Fish eagle perched above Lake Naivasha

Fish eagle playing it safe


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