Watch This Stoked Heron “Hang Ten” and Surf on a Chill Hippo’s Back

Written by Kirstin Harrington
Published: March 24, 2023
© David Byron Keener/
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There are few things better than a safari in Kruger National Park. With the greatest variety of wildlife in South Africa along with some of the best game watching in the world, Kruger provides award-winning lodging, efficient logistics, and some of the continent’s top trackers and rangers who are ready to take you on exhilarating walking safaris and big five game excursions.

During one of these trips, a group of tourists saw something that boggled their minds. By the looks of it, a lanky heron was seemingly floating across the water. No, it wasn’t paddling or flying. The bird is standing straight up, gliding across the surface.

The group is left scratching their heads until a hippo comes up for air! It turns out the heron was standing on the hippo’s back as the massive animal swam under the surface. Luckily for the heron, the hippo doesn’t seem to mind! 

It’s not uncommon to see a bird relaxing on a hippopotamus at all, especially in Kruger National Park. The majority of us learned about symbiotic relationships in science class. Two animals, frequently of different species, coexist in a way that benefits both critters for a long period of time. 

Unlikely Pals

When a partnership is really symbiotic, cooperation benefits both parties. For instance, birds that consume insects travel on the backs of hippopotami. The abundance of food is a source of joy for the birds, and the hippos are content to be bug-free with minimal effort.

Hippos don’t appear to mind when herons use them as a platform from which to hunt fish. These birds only weigh two to four pounds, leaving the hippo relatively unaware of its presence. 

Other Birds That Ride Hippos

The stunning oxpecker birds perched on the backs of hippopotamuses are more often spotted than herons and hippos. Ticks, parasites, and dead skin are treats that these hippos give to these adorable birds. That gives you a good idea of the crucial connection that the oxpeckers and the hippo have.

Pesticides meant to eliminate parasites from livestock are often deadly to oxpeckers.


Yet that is not where the narrative ends. The oxpeckers eat the insects and ticks off the hippo’s back, but they also consume a lot of its blood in the process. The healing process may be slowed down if these birds continue to drink blood from the wounds of these animals. Nonetheless, having these birds is better for the hippos than not having them. 

More than just cleaning bugs for hippopotamuses is done by oxpeckers. When and if they detect any threat, they also emit alarms. This gives the enormous creatures a supplementary warning mechanism.

You just have to see this heron pulling a magic trick right in front of your eyes with the help of its hippo friend! Just out the video below! 

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The Featured Image

Great Blue Heron catching a huge fish.
Great Blue Heron catching a huge fish.
© David Byron Keener/

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About the Author

When she's not busy playing with her several guinea pigs or her cat Finlay Kirstin is writing articles to help other pet owners. She's also a REALTOR® in the Twin Cities and is passionate about social justice. There's nothing that beats a rainy day with a warm cup of tea and Frank Sinatra on vinyl for this millennial.

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