Rhino vs. Hippo: Differences & Who Wins in a Fight

How Fast Do Rhino Run - Charging Rhino
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Written by Cindy Rasmussen

Updated: August 10, 2023

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Hippo vs Rhino
A battle between rhinos and hippos would pit two of the largest land animals against one another.

Rhinos and Hippopotamus (Hippos) are similar-looking creatures, and both can be aggressive. You wouldn’t want to encounter either of them in the wild! But what if they met each other in the wild, do they even live in the same places? Would the rhino’s horn be more powerful than the hippo’s long sharp teeth? Neither of them looks like they would be fast but who would win a race? Let’s find out all about rhinos and hippos!

Quick Facts about Rhinos

White Rhino Running - Charging White Rhino

Rhinos can reach more than 7,000 pounds and have sharpened horns.

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Rhinos have large bodies with short legs and tough outer skin that looks somewhat like armor. Some refer to them as the tanks of the jungle. But when you think of a rhino you think of the large horn on its head. Some rhinos have two horns with the first horn much larger than the second, and some rhinos only have one horn.

The largest rhino species, the white rhino, can grow to be 12-13 feet long and 5-6 feet tall and weigh an average of 5,000 lbs but some have been recorded at 7,000+lbs. There are 5 species of rhinos that live in Africa and Asia.

Although they used to be dispersed all over these continents, they are now limited to a few areas due to poaching and habitat loss. The white rhino and black rhino are only in Africa (grasslands), the Indian rhino lives in parts of the deserts and shrublands in India, the Sumatran rhino in tropical forests in India and Borneo and there are only a few Javan rhinos left which are managed at the Ujung Kulan National Park in Indonesia.

Quick Facts about Hippos

hippo charging towards camera with mouth open

A hippo’s jaw has an 1800 PSI bite force.

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Hippos also have large bodies with short legs and thick skin but do not have a horn like a rhino. They do have an enormous mouth that can open to a foot and a half at a 150° angle! And inside this mouth are two enormous bottom teeth, made from ivory, just like the tusks of an elephant. These teeth can grow to be 20 inches in length!

Hippos are very aggressive animals and are known to attack humans. If a boat unexpectedly ends up in waters where hippos are, the hippo will often attack, and they are responsible for about 500 human deaths a year. There are two species of hippopotamus, the common hippo, and the pygmy hippo. The common hippo is the larger of the two. Hippos can grow to be 10-16 feet long, up to 5 feet tall, and weigh close to 9,000+ lbs.

Pygmy hippos are a bit smaller in size and weight. Both species live in the water most of the time and have webbed toes that help propel them through the water. Their noses and ears are situated so they can stay just above the water when resting in shallow water. Hippos can be found in East Africa although they used to be spread out over much of Africa.

What do Rhinos and Hippos have in Common?

What Do Hippos Eat

Hippos and rhinos are both large mammals that are similar in size.

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Rhinos and hippos do have a lot of similarities, their bodies are similar in shape and size although rhinos normally are a bit larger. They both live in Africa and could come across each other in the same habitat, however, hippos must be near water where they spend most of their time.

They have similar diets, both being primarily herbivores. Rhinos eat grasses, leaves, trees, and fruit, with hippos eating mostly grasses, in fact, they need to consume about 80lbs of grass a day (actually “a night” since they are night feeders.). Researchers are finding that although most hippos seem to be herbivores some do eat meat. Not many animals want to mess with either the rhino or hippo, so adults don’t have any natural predators, but young rhinos and hippos may be attacked by crocodiles, lions, or a pack of hyenas.

Unfortunately, one thing that rhinos and hippos have in common is that they do share a common enemy, poachers are a threat to them, being hunted for their horns (rhinos) and teeth (hippos).

What is the Difference Between a Rhino’s Horn and a Hippo’s Teeth?

Rhino Horn

Rhino horns are made of keratin, which is the same protein that makes fingernails.

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A five-foot-long horn on top of your head is a bit intimidating, especially if one is running toward you. Narwhals have what appears to be a long horn coming out of their head, but it is actually a tooth, similar to an elephant tusk, that can grow to be 9 feet long. But the horn on a rhino is thick and solid, especially at the base. Their horns are made of keratin, the same protein that makes up our fingernails and hair. The horns are actually a collection of hair-like material woven together to make a hard stiff horn.  

Some rhinos have two horns (white, black, and Sumatran) and some only have one (Indian and Javan). One-horned rhinos are the species that are the most endangered. Horns continue to grow throughout a rhino’s life and if they lose one it can grow back. Poachers are aware of this, but they continue to kill rhinos before removing their horns. In Chinese culture, the horns are believed to have medicinal properties and the horns are viewed as a status symbol.

Hippos have large bottom incisors that are teeth made from the same composition as the ivory of elephant’s tusks. The dentine makes the teeth strong and the enamel protects them. The ivory of the hippo teeth is a little softer than that of the elephants and poachers like this because it is easier to carve. Since the focus of the ban on the ivory trade is on saving elephants, many poachers are turning to killing hippos for their teeth instead, making the hippos more at risk. They are listed by the IUCN as “Vulnerable” due to poaching and habitat loss.

Who Lives Longer, Rhinos or Hippos?

The name hippopotamus comes from the Greek words “river horse”, although comparing a hippo to a horse seems a bit of a stretch. Horses can live for 25-30 years, but hippos live much longer. And compared to a rhino it should not be a surprise that they both have the same life span of 40-50 years.

Who are Faster, Rhinos, or Hippos?

One look at a hippo and your first thought are not “Wow, he must be fast!”. Same for the rhino. With those short legs and a 9,000lb body, you would think you could easily outrun one. But you would be wrong. Hippos can reach speeds of 30mph!

And in a race with a rhino, it would depend on the rhino, a couch potato rhino would probably lose to a hippo, but a well-trained athlete rhino would win. Rhinos have been recorded at speeds of 34mph, so just a tad faster than hippos.

Who Would Win in a Fight Between a Rhino and a Hippo?

How Fast Do Rhino Run - Charging Rhino

A rhino vs. hippo fight would be a lose-lose encounter.

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It is possible that these two large animals would encounter each other in the wild, but they typically do not interact. If they did get into a fight there are several factors to consider who is most likely to win. Hippos are more aggressive and are used to fighting other hippos so they have more battle experience.

Rhinos are more solitary and although they do fight with other rhinos for territory and for mating rights it is less often than hippos. Black rhinos are known to be the most aggressive of the rhino species. The large teeth of the hippo are stronger than the rhino’s horn, but the skin of the rhino is tougher than the skin of a hippo. The biggest determining factor in a fight between a rhino and a hippo would be whether the fight was in the water or on land.

A fight on the land could end with a rhino charging at 30mph with its horn and strong neck muscles thrusting into the side of a hippo, knocking him over, and using his horn to finish the hippo off.

A fight in the water may result in the hippo winning by luring the rhino into deeper water and using his sharp teeth to inflict an injury and the rhino drowning. Both of these massive animals can hold their own and it is as if they understand that a fight between them would be a lose, lose situation.

Is it Normal for Rhinos to Fight Hippos?

Hippopotamus emerging from water

Hippos are highly aggressive and unpredictable, and often charge other animals or even humans.

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Rhinos and hippos are both large herbivorous mammals that share similar habitats in Africa. While they may occasionally come into contact with each other, it is not normal for rhinos to actively seek out and fight hippos.

Both rhinos and hippos are generally peaceful animals that prefer to avoid conflict if possible. However, they may become aggressive if they feel threatened or if they perceive a challenge to their dominance. This can happen when two males of the same species compete for mating rights or when two individuals of different species feel that their territory is being invaded.

In rare cases, there have been reports of rhinos attacking and even killing hippos. However, these incidents are typically isolated and not representative of the normal behavior of either species. It is much more common for rhinos and hippos to coexist peacefully and avoid confrontation whenever possible.

Could Another Animal Take Down a Rhino?

The hippo and the rhino seemed like an even match but the rhino’s horn seemed to make all the difference. How would the rhino do against another big gray land mammal that has long tusks instead of big hippo teeth? How would a rhino do against the biggest land animal on earth – the mighty elephant?

Rhinos and elephants have a lot in common, the first being that they are both herbivores weighing over 2,000 pounds who only eat vegetation. They share habitats in the African savanna and eat the same kinds of grasses. Both animals are so big that they have no natural predators – humans poaching their tusks and horns are their only enemies. Young rhinos and elephants are often prey – but once they reach adulthood – no animal is going to mess with them.

Elephants have long legs – so you would think they would be faster than rhinos – but that’s not the case! Rhinos can reach speeds of up to 34 mph while elephants typically run 10 mph but have been known to reach speeds of 25 mph on occasion.

Who would win in a battle between a rhino and an elephant? It has actually happened and has been recorded – and this is how it went down. The rhino tried to maintain its balance and dealt blows to the elephant with its horn – 5 feet in length! The elephant, with its superior size, just kept trying to knock the rhino over so it could crush it – not even using its 6 feet long tusks to stab – just to lift. The lift, flip, and crush method would have ultimately been successful if the rhino hadn’t given up and run away with its superior speed!


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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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