On Monday night I watched Inside Nature's Giants, Channel Four's wildlife documentary opponent to the BBC's [insert David Attenborough's latest wildlife programme here].
The giant subject this week was the Hippopotamus, my 7th favourite animal, after Flipper, the Liger, Pegasus, the Diplodocus, the human centipede and Smaug. Kidding! Flipper is more like top 20...
Now because so many hungry hippos in Zambia's Luangwa Valley threaten the survival of other species in the park, the authorities cull 200 of them every year. Not in the X Factor "let's reject 100s from Boot Camp so 32 can go to Judge's Houses" sense, but in the "bang bang your dead" sense. Bad Times for Hippos...
Good Times for Veterinary scientist (AKA Vet) Mark Evans and comparative anatomist (AKA anatomist who compares the anatomy of different animals - OK let's stick with the former) Joy Reidenberg. Both go all Frank Sinatra on us and get right under one of these mud-loving beast's skin.
So until the real life Dr. Doolittle makes himself known, anatomical exploration is apparently the best way to learn more about the inner workings of an animal, and after an hour watching some peeps in orange jumpsuits digging through entrails, this is what I now know about these ballet-loving mammals:
- A hippo is pretty much the animal equivalent to Wolverine. Its skin is an inch thick, providing adamantium-esque protection from rival hippo bites. Also if Mufasa, Simba or most likely Nala, manage to get a few scratches and bites in, a hippo's skin heals really quickly because of bloody sweat. Seriously,they have these glands that secrete a liquid which turns red when combined with oxygen as it breaks the skin's surface. This weird liquid also serves as their own brand of sun cream. Saves getting sucked in by those 3 for 2s at Boots.
- Sausage Fruit is an actual thing. Hippos can't get enough of these sausage-shaped fruits, which apparently are poisonous to humans when eaten, but we use the juices in certain kinds of sun-cream. Hence, the reason why these water-dwelling wide-loads have built in sun-cream dispensers.
- Hippos eat like crap. I've got a dusty kids game at home that could have told you that, but apparently Joy and Mark needed to delve into the guts and stomach of a hippo (finding vast quantities of half-digested vegetation) to confirm it's gluttonous reputation. Also, on occasion, they literally eat their crap.
- Hippos would make good journalists. Muckrakers like no other, these grazers incessantly flick their dung all over the place using their short tails. Sadly, its not their way of exposing political scandals but to mark territory, although I'm sure there are some journos who have given the latter ago. (FYI I do not count myself in this minority. Honest!)
- Richard Dawkins doesn't just hate the Pope. Who knew that before we were deluded by God, old Dawks made his name as an evolutionary biologist? Clearly trying to remind us all of this fact, the most famous atheist since Kevin Bacon - come on Footloose was such a giveaway - drops the bombshell that hippos are in fact related to whales.
- The Hiphopopotamus' lyrics are bottomless... no wait, wrong show.
A solid effort by the channel that brought you Gok's Fashon Fix and Hollyoaks (the coma- patients' favourite) but without the aged timbre of upper-middleclass articulation, In Nature's Giants will never truly knock Atters off the wildlife top spot.
Here's hoping Skippy fairs better next week.
Follow Hanna Flint on Twitter: