Rhino Vs. Hippo: Who Would Win A Fight? (Comparison)

Photo: Photography Phor Phun / Shutterstock

Rhinos and hippos are two of the largest terrestrial mammals. They can sometimes share a habitat, but do they compete for resources?

If it would come to a fight, who would come out victorious?

Rhinos and hippos grow to similar lengths and heights. They also have similar hefts, but rhinos are faster than hippos. Their speed helps them increase the strike force, making rhinos stronger physically than hippos. However, hippos have a stronger bite and are more aggressive. In a one-on-one, hippopotamuses are almost always at an advantage.

The table below shows a quick comparison and strength differences between rhino* vs. hippo:

Body size11 to 13.75 feet9.5 to 16.5 feet
Weight 1.6 to 4 tons1.5 to 4 tons
Bite force1,000 PSI1,827 PSI
Speed31 mph19 mph
Strike force196,500 lb.-ft./s104,500 lb.-ft./s
Habitat Forests, savannas, woodlands; Africa and AsiaSemi-aquatic; Africa
Behavior Typically solitary; non-aggressiveSocial species; aggressive
Diet Herbivore Herbivore 
Reproduction Every 2.5 to 3 yearsEvery other year
Life expectancy (in the wild)46 to 50 years40 to 45 years
Conservation statusNear threatenedVulnerable 

*For comparison purposes, we considered the average characteristics of the white rhinoceros, which is the most abundant rhino species in the world. Characteristics, strength facts, and conservation status may differ for other rhino species, some of which are nearly extinct. 

Strike forces in the table above were calculated based on the average weight of each species multiplied by the maximum speed mentioned in the table.

Rhino Vs. Hippo: Similarities & Differences

Photo: Stefan Rotter / Shutterstock

1. Body Size

Rhinos and hippos are both large animals, and there isn’t a major difference in their body size. 

White rhinoceros, the largest species in Africa, can grow between 11 and almost 14 feet in length. Some of the largest males can stand up to six feet in height, so it’s safe to say that rhinos are taller than most people. 

However, white rhinos are not the largest rhino species in the world. 

The greater one-horned rhino (also known as the Indian rhino) is the largest species worldwide. These rhinos have shorter body lengths compared to the white ones – up to 12.5 feet, on average – but they can reach a height of up to 6.5 feet

Hippos are slightly larger than rhinos, their bodies reaching a length up to 16.5 feet. However, they are shorter, with a shoulder height of only 5.2 feet. 

2. Weight 

Rhinos and hippos grow to similar sizes, and they both have bulky bodies. Due to this fact, they also have a similar body mass. 

Typically, white rhinos reach weights up to 4 tons – the same as hippos. Other rhino species are generally lighter. Sumatran rhinos, for instance, generally weigh about a ton

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Black rhinos, the second of the two African species, are also lighter, weighing around 1.4 tons on average.

3. Bite Force

Hippos and rhinos might have a similar height and body mass, but hippos have a more powerful bite. 

In fact, a hippo’s jaws can exert a force up to 1,827 PSI. Comparatively, white rhinos have a bite force of about 1,000 PSI, and other rhino species have an even weaker bite. 

Black rhinos, for instance, can only muster around 727 PSI, whereas Sumatran rhinos’ bite force doesn’t exceed 450 PSI. 

Not only do hippos have a more powerful bite, but they are also more likely to attack. 

Hippos have jaws that open to 180 degrees and tusks that can grow up to 1.5 feet long. As herbivores, hippos don’t usually attack humans or animals, but they can become aggressive if they sense danger or defend their territory.

In fact, it is estimated that hippos in Africa kill about 500 people every year, a record that earned them the title of the deadliest mammal on land.

Rhinos also make it to the top ten deadliest animals in Africa, but they occupy the last spot on the list. Hippos are number six, but all African animals that are deadlier than hippos are reptiles and insects. 

4. Speed

Bulky bodies are often associated with slower movements, but that’s not the case for rhinoceroses and hippos. 

Both mammals are incredibly agile for their size, reaching speeds up to 34 and 19 miles per hour, respectively. 

However, rhinos have an advantage here. 

Rhinoceroses are land-dwelling mammals living in forests, savannas, and woodlands. Some populations also inhabit the grasslands, but these animals don’t have a tight connection with the water.

They are designed to move on land and can reach speeds comparable to those of predators. 

Of all rhino species, black rhinos are the fastest, reaching speeds up to 34 miles per hour. Indian and Sumatran rhinos are the slowest, sprinting up to 25 miles per hour.

White rhinos are in-between, reaching speeds up to 31 miles per hour. Comparatively, grizzly bears reach similar speeds

Some anecdotal evidence suggests that hippos can also allegedly reach speeds up to 30 miles per hour. However, the researchers concluded that they only reach about 30 kilometers per hour, which turns out to be around 19 miles per hour.

Unlike rhinos, though, hippopotamuses are semi-aquatic mammals that spend their days in bodies of water. They might not be the fastest runners, but they still run faster than most humans and are also agile swimmers.

5. Strike Force

There aren’t specific studies on the strike force of rhinos or hippos, but the impact force is easy to calculate considering the average weight and speed of each species. 

For the purpose of this comparison, we considered the average weight of hippos and white rhinos and multiplied it by the top speed. 

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According to these calculations, we found that rhinos can produce an impact force of 196.500 lb.-ft./s. This is the equivalent of 6,091 pounds of force per square foot. 

As explained above, hippos are slower. Thus, their impact force is also lower, but it’s still high enough to kill you with a single strike. 

A hippo running into you at full speed can generate an impact force equivalent to 3,248 pounds. That’s about two times lower than rhinos, but this still doesn’t give rhinos a real advantage over hippos – read on to find out why.

6. Habitat 

Rhinos and hippos may or may not live in the same habitat, depending on species and the geographical area where a population is established. 

Hippos can only be found in Africa, throughout the savanna and the main rivers in Central Africa. Their habitat is always aquatic, in areas of lakes, swamps, rivers, and other shallow bodies of water. 

These mammals tend to move to deeper bodies of water in the case of draughts.

However, hippos cannot survive without water – they generally stay partially submerged during the day and only emerge at dusk, going ashore to feed or travel to new grazing sites. 

Rhinos live in Africa and Asia alike. The two species living in Africa – white and black rhinos – are typically found in forests, scrub forests, savannas, and grasslands.

In some of these habitats, they can coexist with hippos, especially the black rhinos that usually stay within 15 miles of water. 

Asian rhinos inhabit similar territories in the tropical areas of Asia, especially in Java, Nepal, Pakistan, and Northern India. 

7. Behavior 

Another important difference between the two species is their behavior and social structure. 

Rhinoceroses are generally solitary yet peaceful creatures. All Asian species are solitary, except for females with young.

Aggregation can sometimes occur in grazing areas and during the mating season, while a male’s territory often overlaps with the territory of several females. 

African rhinos are also mostly solitary, although white rhinos can sometimes gather in groups (called crashes) of ten to 15 rhinos.

Crashes usually consist of females and calves, while male rhinos establish their own, non-overlapping territories. 

Hippos are social animals and live in groups (called bloats). Bloat sizes usually vary from ten to 30 individuals, but some groups can count as many as 200 hippos

Despite being herbivores, hippos are not usually found in many carnivores’ diets; that’s because they are large and aggressive, and not many animals mess with them. 

However, lions, crocodiles, and spotted hyenas can sometimes target the calves. This is where living in groups comes in handy; the adults usually defend their young, whether or not they are related to the calf.

8. Diet 

Both rhinos and hippos are herbivores, but their dietary habits are different. 

Rhinos are generalist browsers, even though different rhino species have different preferences. Black rhinos, for instance, get most of their sustenance from trees and bushes. White rhinos, however, prefer grazing on grasses.   

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Similar variations can also be observed in Asian rhinos. 

Despite their aquatic lifestyle, hippos mostly feed on land. They travel every night to grazing spots, where their territory can intersect with that of rhinos (and other herbivores). An adult hippo can eat up to 80 pounds of grass per day.

9. Reproduction

When it comes to reproduction, both rhinos and hippos are polygamous. 

Rhinos don’t have a specific breeding season, although in white rhinos, mating behavior peaks from October to December or from February to June, depending on their actual habitat (southern or eastern Africa). 

Females go through a gestation period between 530 and 550 days, giving birth to one offspring, generally. 

The weaning period is about 12 months, but calves only become independent when they reach two to two and a half years of age. That’s why the breeding interval varies between two and three years.

In hippos, breeding can also occur year-round, although the season peaks between February and August. They also give birth to one calf that reaches the weaning age in about a year. That’s why hippo females generally mate every other year.

10. Life Expectancy (In The Wild)

In ideal conditions, white rhinos should have a life expectancy in the wild of up to 50 years. However, the typical lifespan goes from 39 to 43 years. 

Hippos have a similar life expectancy of about 40 years in the wild. 

11. Conservation Status

Hippos and rhinos alike are vulnerable animals, with some species being almost extinct in the wild. 

The table below shows the conservation status of hippos and all rhino species:

SpeciesConservation Status*Population*
Hippopotamus Vulnerable 115,000 to 130,000
White rhinocerosNear threatened Around 18,000
Black rhinocerosCritically endangered Around 5,500
Greater one-horned rhinoVulnerable Around 3,700
Javan rhino Critically endangered Around 60
Sumatran rhinoceros Critically endangeredFewer than 80

*Conservation status and population data in the table above were sourced from WWF for each species.

Who Would Win A Fight?

Hippos and white or black rhinos can sometimes share a territory. However, these behemoth species rarely interact. 

They are both herbivores, and even if they can coexist in the same territory, hippos spend most of their time in the water, whereas rhinos browse on land. 

If it came to a fight, however, hippos would have a clear advantage. 

Despite being physically weaker than rhinos, hippos are aggressive mammals used to fight off other hippos and potential predators. In fact, they have no trouble scaring off lions and crocodiles

Hippos also have a more powerful bite than rhinos, as well as larger mouths. They are slower but still move confidently on land as well as in the water. 

Rhinos would only stand a chance in an open space where they could gain speed and charge into the hippo’s side, knocking it down and finishing it off with the horn (or by trampling the hippo with its feet). Otherwise, hippos would always come out victoriously.

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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