Hippo's are one of natures most efficient food > weight animals, making them perfect for food. Additionally they are arguably the most dangerous land mammal, meaning they are hard to domesticate, very very hard. now we have been able to them them like, Jessica the Hippo shes 18 years old and may still sleep on the living room floor once in a while but that's not the same as domesticate them.

What can I do to make my culture able to domesticate the hippopotamus? If there is something that can be done, what is the earliest it can be done? If it cannot, how close can I get?

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ "[The hippopotamuses] are hard to domesticate, very very hard": how do you know? Has anybody tried? Do you have a reference? Because when somebody tried, many species, including moose and foxes, were domesticated in a few generations. Hippopotamuses are related to cattle and pigs... (And to cetaceans, but that doesn't help so much.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Aug 19 '17 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP Hippopotamuses are extremely territorial and dangerous, similar to the buffalo of America, the danger factor prevented them from being domesticated $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Aug 20 '17 at 1:48
  • $\begingroup$ Do you have any sources? I was under the impression that most African animals were strictly undomesticatable. Think zebras, they're horses, but what goes wrong. Giraffe? Opinions aside, JBH's answer speaks to tameability, but it does not mention that the proposed hypothesis is that there is a tameability gene. You would have to figure out if hippos had that gene before you can say it's because they're too dangerous. $\endgroup$ – Carl Aug 20 '17 at 3:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Carl Zebra's are herd animals as opposed to horse, which live in family groups. Giraffes have the same problem as Hippo's danger, as well as difficulty cranked to 11 (do you know how hard it would be to lasso a giraffe? Never mind build a pen to contain it and get on it in the first place to break it). $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Aug 20 '17 at 3:39
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @TrEs-2b you have no idea what you're talking about, I'm sorry. $\endgroup$ – Carl Aug 20 '17 at 5:20

You are in luck. An experiment to better understand the domestication process was conducted on the Russian Red Fox. The project lead explained:

Belyayev believed that the key factor selected for in the domestication of dogs was not size or fertility, but behavior: specifically, tameability. Since behavior is rooted in biology, selecting for tameness and against aggression means selecting for physiological changes in the systems that govern the body's hormones and neurochemicals.

His process for achieving his goals was, very simply...

The least domesticated foxes, those that flee from experimenters or bite when stroked or handled, are assigned to Class III. Foxes in Class II let themselves be petted and handled but show no emotionally friendly response to experimenters. Foxes in Class I are friendly toward experimenters, wagging their tails and whining. In the sixth generation bred for tameness we had to add an even higher-scoring category. Members of Class IE, the "domesticated elite", are eager to establish human contact, whimpering to attract attention and sniffing and licking experimenters like dogs. They start displaying this kind of behavior before they are one month old. By the tenth generation, 18 percent of fox pups were elite; by the 20th, the figure had reached 35 percent. Today elite foxes make up 70 to 80 percent of our experimentally selected population.

I expect the same rules apply to Hippos ... assuming you can avoid the screaming and the yelling and the, well, death that might occur when you find Class III Hippos. Note that the experimenters had to work through 20 generations of foxes to just to achieve 35% domestication. with 6–8 years needed to reproduce a generation, that's 120–160 years to domesticate Hippos. Bring a sack lunch!

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ bonus points for humor. $\endgroup$ – Thufir Aug 20 '17 at 3:01
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Carl, what I propose is that if you want a realistic scenario, start with what someone has already done. The wonderful thing about fiction is that generally, you only need to be believable. $\endgroup$ – JBH Aug 20 '17 at 3:57
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ And it's worth noting that, using the Red Fox experiment as a guide, it would take about 300 years of focused effort to domesticate hippos to any useful level. That's a heckavua comittment. $\endgroup$ – JBH Aug 20 '17 at 4:12
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Excuse me sir Hippi, are you of the social class of.. Hippo bites guy's hand off ..OK, that answers it $\endgroup$ – Nahshon paz Aug 20 '17 at 14:14
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Carl - Belyayev's breeding target the adrenal hormone production pathways. Despite his use or translation of "elite", all he really did was select the least aggression and fearful of each generation, until he ended up with a population with extremely low adrenal hormone levels. In the process, he found that the same pathway controlled the rigidity of cartilage in the ears, explaining why domestic mammals usually have floppy ears. The effect is pronounced in dogs with "sharp" eared breeds being far more aggressive than "floppy" eared. $\endgroup$ – TechZen Aug 20 '17 at 19:28

Actually it seems your idea is not new (see here).

It seems someone seriously planned to raise hippos as cattle; plan was not actually pursued, but for other reasons, not difficulty of domestication.

They are not things you'll use as horses, but that's not intended ;)

AFAIK they are kept in many zoo and they are happily proliferating, given the chance.

I do not think you can put them in some "intensive farm", but they will be willing to solve marshland excess vegetation problems you may have.

In a few generations, butchering mercilessly the most unstable and allowing the more docile to mate, you should solve even irascibility problems. This should take a very reasonable amount of time (no more than 10 generations).

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This. Just because the experiments with foxes JBH mentioned were done in captivity does not mean that taming hippos should exactly follow the same model. Simply let hippos live nearby and cull the wildest ones so they don't reproduce. $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. Aug 20 '17 at 11:06
  • $\begingroup$ Of course, culling an irascible hippo is a somewhat trickier proposal than culling intractable foxes. I hope you brought enough anti-materiel rifles for everybody. $\endgroup$ – Shadur Aug 21 '17 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Shadur: not really with modern means. Let them live semi-free in the marsh. Mark the troublesome ones. When you need some fresh meat use sleep dart to "tame" marked beasts and send it to slaughterhouse (assuming you want butcher it with modern methods). We are (still!) routinely breeding fighting bulls which are notoriously more irascible than hippos, and also armed, if a bit smaller. As said: depends on what you mean by "domestication"; if you want to ride them like a horse it could be hard, but using them as food source shouldn't be much different than converting boar to pork. $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Aug 21 '17 at 11:00
  • $\begingroup$ @ZioByte Hippos are also armed, as anybody who's been gored by a hippo could tell you if they hadn't just been gored by a hippo. Check it out when they yawn. $\endgroup$ – EightyEighty Aug 21 '17 at 22:31
  • $\begingroup$ @EightyEighty: really! I would rather face a hipo than a Kalashnikov, though. I know hippos aren't exactly kittens, but I would like to remind you there's people hunting lions and elephants with a bow and I'm sorry for the poor prey that has no real chance. What can do a hippo behind a fence if you decide it has to die? They may be big, but have no means to break or trespass something as simple as a tall new-jersey. $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Aug 25 '17 at 16:55

As mentioned by previous respondents to domesticate Hippos as humans have done with other species by selective breeding would be extremely dangerous for those involved and would take a considerable amount of time. The only other method which seems to present itself to my mind is to directly genetically modify the Hippo genome itself using modern scientific genetic engineering techniques (plasmid insertion). Once scientists can isolate the genes that control behaviour and in particular aggression responses they would be able to switch them off or otherwise mitigate their influence. However this would not be simple to do since aggression in Hippos is likely a product of many different genes. In humans the gene monoamine oxidase A is strongly associated with human aggression, and is sometimes referred to as the warrior gene, it controls levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain.


A lot depends on what you plan to do with these hippos. If you're looking at them as a food source, you don't need to do much, except for restrict their range. Hippos leave the water at night to go forage. You can have your hippo-cowboys drive around at night with a front-end-loader. When it's (ahem) harvest-time, shoot one with a big huge rifle, scoop it up in the loader, and be on your way.

Now if you're talking about the unstoppable thundering lance-charge of hippo cavalry (and if you're not you should start; everyone should be talking about this), then selective breeding over generations is the way to go, as others have commented.

Side-note... Saw a nature show which highlighted a species of, well, mini-hippo which is much smaller and vulnerable to predators. Its sole defense was insane aggression which makes it risky to predate. The speculation on the show was that when big hippos evolved into being big enough to avoid most predation they kept the aggression as a relic.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.