Would you travel to Africa to observe a unique animal in the world? we already have done

A small motor boat docks in front of a paradisiacal beach, and a group of visitors dressed in hats, water sandals and cameras get off it. At the head of the group is Belmiro, a local guide born on the island of Orango Grande, Guinea Bissau, accustomed to seeing the imposing figure of hippos since childhood. Now, as an adult, he works at the Orango Parque Hotel, and leads excursions like this one, which serve to make the peculiarities of this great mammal known to travelers like us. During a walk of about 20 minutes, he introduces us to the singularity of the iconic landscape that surrounds us, and tells us how it changes as the dry season passes.

What in October are meadows covered with green herbs, in December turns into yellowish land typical of the African savannah”, he explains just before crossing a stream that is still full of the water that fell during the rainy season.

hipopotamo agua salada isla orango guinea bissau

Unique in the world – the saltwater or marine hippopotamus

The croaking of the amphibians accompanies us on that little silent journey, until we again reach the path that will lead us, finally, to the goal that we all share when choosing to travel to this spectacular corner of West Africa, the Bijagó archipelago: being able to observe a unique animal in the world, whose protection deserved the creation, more than 25 years ago (in 1996), of the Orango National Park – Guinea Bissau.

Saltwater hippopotamus in Guinea Bissau

That animal is the saltwater or marine hippopotamus, which alternates its life between mangroves, rivers and lagoons, being those of the Anor region its favorites to spend the beginning of the dry season, taking advantage of the fact that they are still full of water.

That’s where we find ourselves today, and Belmiro asks us for absolute silence. We are approaching an imposing species, which must be protected and respected. Not only because of its situation in danger of extinction, but because it is the emblem of the Orango National Park, and an animal that the animist religion of the Bijagó people venerates. He tells us all this in a low voice as we climb, step by step, to the observatory of the first lagoon, and before he hands us the binoculars that will allow us to see a family that we will never forget.

The green lagoon, full of water lilies, and located in front of the observation center, remains still, until, at a given moment, a colossal head emerges and emits an already unmistakable sound. How lucky we have been! Nature does not understand rules or schedules, and it is not always easy to witness what we are seeing with our privileged eyes.

“The mobile cameras activate the video option and the telephoto lenses point to eyes that shy away from the sun.”

The volume of his body submerged under water indicates his enormous corpulence. Belmiro tells us that male hippopotamuses like this one can reach 4 meters and weigh 3,500 kilos. He is the only one of the herd. The rest of the specimens are females, one of which we see is pregnant. Gestation usually lasts 8 months, and the belly of that future mother shows how a new hippopotamus will soon join this family group.

We could be like this for hours, because the daily routine of this spectacular mammal involves soaking for hours, avoiding the heat of the sun, which damages its fine skin so much. And it will not be until night when they decide to go out, and move, along the same path that we are now retracing, to the beach, stopping to eat the herbs that they find on their way, which due to their voracious appetite can reach up to 100 kilos.

The end of the party for this giant vegetarian, which we sadly say goodbye to before sunset threatens to find him on our return, ends up in the sea, in that ocean that they have learned to love for its fury, its freshness and for its deworming effect.

A trip to Africa to discover Guinea Bissau and the Island of Orango

It gets dark, and on board the boat, captained by a native sailor, accustomed since childhood to be guided by the stars, we skirt the coast of the island of Orango Grande, until some lights attract us to our next destination: the beautiful white sand beach that stretches out in front of Orango Parque Hotel, the only hotel that exists in the park, and in whose African-style bungalows, we will remember the memorable moment with the hippos that we just experienced.

And then, only then, will we realize how lucky we are to have witnessed the greatness of nature, and we will immediately include the experience lived a few hours before in the category of unforgettable. Having crossed the skies, and having crossed a large part of the Bijagó archipelago by boat, has had its reward: observing an animal that is unique in the world: the saltwater hippopotamus.

If you dare too, we are waiting for you at Orango Parque Hotel!