Both species are primarily located in Africa (three rhino species live outside the continent) and are herbivores. They are similar in size, weight, diet, and habitat. 

Hippo (left) vs Rhino (Right) Visual Comparison


Main Differences Between a Hippo and a Rhino

  • Appearance: Hippos are dense with barrel-shaped bodies, small ears, thick legs, and sharp canine teeth. Rhinos are similarly proportioned but have longer faces and sport one or two large horns. 
  • Size: Male hippos weigh up to 1,500 kg or 3,310 lb, less than some rhino species but more than others. 
  • Habitat: Hippos prefer areas around lakes and rivers, while rhinos can be found in forestlands, savannas, and grasslands. Both species are commonly found around water sources, like lakes and rivers.
  • Diet: Both species are herbivores, meaning they consist entirely of plant material. This includes fruit, leaves, bark, and twigs. 

We’ll explore these differences and exciting facts about these two animals below.

Hippopotamus 

The hippopotamus, commonly known as the hippo, is a large mammal native to sub-Saharan Africa. It is semi-aquatic, meaning that, unlike the rhino, it lives part of its life in the water. They are also well-known for their incredible and sometimes intimidating speed (which is slightly slower than the speeds that some rhinos can read). They can get up to 19 mph (30 km/h) over short distances. 

Hippos are the third-largest land mammal after the elephant and the rhinoceros. There are only two living members of the family, Hippopotamidae. They are: 

  • Common hippopotamus 
  • River hippopotamus 
A group of hippos surfacing in the water
A group of hippos surfacing in the water


Appearance 

Hippos are large mammals with wide mouths, large teeth, canine tusks, thick legs, and dark-colored skin similar in color to rhinos’. Males weigh up to 1,500 kg or 3,310 lb and females weigh up to 1,300 kg or 2,870 lb. The largest recorded male hippo was an incredible 5,860 lb (this max weight is close to the average max weight of the largest rhino species).

Their barrel-shaped bodies have short tails, long muzzles, and dense bones, contributing to their overall stocky appearance. Their low center of gravity allows them to move quickly along the bottom of the water. Their adeptness in the water is furthered through their unusual, webbed feet. These are characteristics that the rhino does not share. Interestingly, they are not considered excellent swimmers due to their size and low center of gravity.

Hippo swimming in shallow water
Hippo swimming in shallow water

When in water, hippos generally prefer to stay where they can easily reach the surface or land quickly. Amazingly, they can spend up to five minutes underwater before surfacing to breathe. 

Habitat 

They prefer to spend their lives where water is easily accessible such as in slow-moving rivers and lakes surrounded by grasslands. The hippo is known as a megaherbivore. This means that, like elephants and rhinos, it is a large land mammal that mainly eats plants. 

Diet 

In the wild, hippos’ diets consist almost entirely of grass. They can eat up to 88 lb or 40 kg of grass in a night before returning to the water in the morning. There have been a few rare occasions in which hippos have been observed eating carrion or dead animals. But these reports are relatively rare.

Female hippo with a baby
Female hippo with a baby

Like rhinos, they have a significant impact on the areas in which they live and feed. This is due to their immense size and how much grass they consume on a daily basis. For local farmers and land managers, this can prove to be somewhat of a nuisance and has resulted in groups of hippos (as well as elephants and rhinos) being culled.

Threats 

Like rhinos, there are few natural predators hippos have to be concerned about. Far more dangerous are their interactions with humans and the effects of climate change. Habitat destruction, as it is for other large mammals, is a major threat.

Sadly, hippopotamuses also face poaching and legal hunting practices that have resulted in a steep decline in their population numbers. With bans on elephant and rhino hunting becoming more prevalent, some have turned to hippos and their ivory canine teeth as a feasible alternative. 

Rhinoceros 

The rhinoceros, commonly known as a rhino, is a member of the family Rhinocerotidae. They are one of the largest living examples of megafauna, or large, herbivorous land mammals. The elephant and the hippopotamus are two other living examples. 

There are currently five living, or extant, species of rhino. They are: 

  • Black rhino
  • White rhino
  • Javan rhino
  • Sumatran rhino 
  • Greater one-horned (Indian) rhino
View of a two-horned rhino
View of a two-horned rhino


Appearance 

Rhinos are well-known for their grey, thick skin, one or two horns, and herbivorous diet. Of the five rhino species, the Indian or greater one-horned rhino is the largest. It can weigh up to 1,800 – 2,500 kg and are between 1.75–2.0 m (5.7–6.6 ft) tall at the shoulder. These rhinos used to be widely distributed throughout India and Nepal. 

Similar in size is the white rhino which grows to weights in the same range but is between 3.5–4.6 m (11–15 ft) in length. It is found in several countries in Africa. They are also known as the square-lipped rhino and are not, despite their designation, as “white,” distinguishable only by color. 

The black rhino is the smallest of the five species, weighing in at between 900 – 1,350 kg and 3.5–3.9 m (11–13 ft) in length. They are also the second of the two African rhino species. 

The Javan rhino is scarce with, scientists estimate, only seventy-five remaining members of the species alive today. They weigh between 900 – 2,300 kg and 3.1–3.2 m (10–10 ft) long, from head to tail. The remaining members of the species live in the forests of Indonesia.

Rhinos in Africa
Rhinos in Africa

Lastly is the Sumatran rhino. It weighs between 500 – 960 kg and is around 1.3 m (4 ft 3 in) high at the shoulder. It is also incredibly rare. Scientists believe this specific species is a direct descent from woolly rhinos, a group of mammals that died out in the Ice Age. Today, fewer than 80 Sumatran rhinos can be found in Sumatra and Borneo. 

Diet

Rhinoceroses are grazing herbivores. This means that they depend entirely on plants to receive their required nutrients. Their primary food sources are fruit and the leaves of various trees and shrubs. They’ve also been known to eat twigs, bark, and roots. 

Habitat 

The five remaining rhino species are distributed throughout Africa, Indonesia, Borneo, and Sumatra. Some species, like the Sumatran rhino, prefer tropical and sub-tropical forests, while others, like the black rhino, prefer tropical and subtropical savannas, scrublands, and deserts. 

A group of rhinos resting
A group of rhinos resting


Threats 

The two most endangered species of rhino are the Sumatran and Javan. There are believed to be between 70 and 80 examples of either species left. Over decades of hunting and poaching, both species have been driven to the brink of extinction. 

Poachers seek out these two incredibly endangered species of rhino, as well as the Indian, black, and white rhinos for their horns, which fetch incredibly high prices and are used in traditional Chinese medicine. The horn (which is made of the same material as human fingernails) is ground up and dissolved in water and is believed, by some, to cure food poisoning, possession, and everything from headaches to snakebites. 

Two rhinos on a savanna
Two rhinos on a savanna

Another threat is generalized illegal game hunting, in which poachers track and kill these animals in order to display them as status symbols.  

FAQs

Is a rhino more aggressive than a hippo?

No, hippos are considered to be more aggressive than rhinos. They are also more solitary animals. This means that large, intimidating groups of these megafaunas are less commonly seen. 

Is hippo skin bulletproof?

Hippo skin is considered to be “almost” bulletproof. Unfortunately, this has not helped in the conservation of the species. Poachers do whatever is necessary to bring down their chosen prey. 

Is a rhino faster than a hippo?

Like the black and white rhinos, African rhinos are similar in speed to hippos. Both can travel, on land, at around 20 mph.

Who would win in a fight, a hippo or a rhino? 

In most fights, the rhino will win out over the hippo. This is due to its slightly faster speed and the use of its one or two keratin horns.