There’s only one time in my life I’ve seen a hippopotamus poop in person, and I will never ever forget it. It happened when I was 11 years old, and it’s been indelibly burned in my mind ever since.
The Taronga Western Plains Zoo, located five hours outside of Sydney, Australia, is an open-air haven for animals. The majority of the inhabitants are free to roam around, but the hippos are sensibly confined to an enclosure to stop them from literally eating people. I don’t remember whether the hippos were new, but there was a giant crowd assembled around the fence watching them in all their water pig glory.
All that separated the public from the hippos were a fence and a small moat. A hippo stood on the shallow edge with his back facing the crowd. “Look at his big bottom,” a child said, standing by his family gazing at the animal.
Then it happened.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with hippo pooping behavior, but they’re much cleaner animals than you’d expect. They’re even nice enough to wipe their own butts with their tails, which feels largely unnecessary for an animal that lives in the water — but I digress.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this. The hippo started to shit. I don’t know what it is about people, but they naturally start to laugh when seeing anything but a dog take a crap. It’s like they’ve never seen waste expulsion in their lives before this moment, looking to each other for solace that, yes, it is indeed hilarious that an animal is pooping just like them.
So mid-poop, the tail starts. I don’t know if hippos always poop like this, but it made the same sound as a playing card lodged in the blades of a desk fan. Suddenly, and violently, the tail sprays poop in all directions. Big globs of the stuff shower outwards like tiny hand grenades.
Some might call it happenstance, but I firmly believe what happened next was an act of God: Every single poop globule headed towards the crowd converged in a giant poop cone that directly struck the family. Nobody else took any hits. It was all on this one poor family who stood there, shellshocked, unable to utter a word.
I really want to know how you reconcile this. If you’re that family, looking around at dozens of people around you who are clean and still able to enjoy their day while you and the people you love the most are covered in hippo poop — do you just feel like the universe hates you? It must be soul-crushing.
And that’s the time I saw a hippo poop.
Writer’s note: I have since learned that this is common hippo behavior and my mind is blown. A 2018 article by Technology.org explained:
“When hippos are defecating, they typically start spinning their tails in order to spread their faeces all over the places. The radius they cover with this spray is rather large – can reach up to 10 meters, but in some cases even standing further will not protect you.”