As a guide in training I have had the opportunity to shadow a number of experienced guides over the last few weeks. During this time there was a particular moment that stood out for me. On one occasion, guide Aflred Mathebula, his guests and I watched in silence as the bush did all the talking for us.

There is a waterhole on central Londolozi I have driven past a number of times, witnessed a fascinating relationship between two individuals: a grey heron and a large male hippo.

This grey heron stands poised and dead still on the fleshy skin on the back of a male hippo, waits for small fish to swim into its line of vision and then strikes at the last second.

After seeing this peculiar relationship a number of times I wondered why this heron would choose the hippo’s back over a more comfortable and steady rock or sandy bank to do its fishing. After doing some research I found that it is the hippo’s faeces that attracts a multitude of different fish to the hippo’s rear, making it the perfect buffet style fishing spot for the heron.

This heron was so dead set on maintaining its perfect fishing spot that as the hippo rolled lazily onto its side, and yawning as it did so, the heron would ‘barrel’ run on the hippo’s stomach to stay in the same place. If the hippo’s movement was boisterous enough it would cause the heron to fly all the way back to the bank. Each time, however, the heron would invariably return.


On this particular day I, Alfie and a number of guests sat in awe as the hippo rolled over onto its back more than four times over the course of an hour, each time causing the heron to leap from the hippo’s back, fly to the bank, wait a minute or two, and then return to its perfect fishing spot. During the process the heron spooked two rhinos drinking, making them flee into the bush.

Alfie needed not say a word to explain what was happening; the bush explained it all and we laughed at nature’s beauty!

Filed under Birds Wildlife

About the Author

Bruce Arnott

Field Guide

Bruce grew up on a plot of farmland in the midlands of KwaZulu-Natal. He always had a passion for the bush and the outdoors, having been camping and fishing since he was a young boy. He attended school in the Natal midlands after ...

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on A Peculiar Relationship

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Jeff Rodgers

Great story . . . great images . . . more of what makes Londolozi so special.

Stuart Manford

Absolutely brilliant!

Jill Larone

Hi Bruce,
Wonderful pictures and what a great viewing that must have been! I really enjoyed hearing about these two unusual “friends”, although the Hippo sounds like he wasn’t as thrilled with the arrangement as the Heron!

Phil Schultz

Say hello to Alfie for the Schultz family. We thought he was an outstanding guide. Might see him again this time next year as we’re coming back

Single Gabriele

great story about nature and wonderful pictures

Ryan James

Great blog, thanks Bruce!

Bruce Arnott

Thank you all, I enjoyed watching the scene unfold in front of me and had fun writing this piece. It is important to notice the smaller, seemingly less significant relationships in the bush; they can teach you more than you know! There will be more to come!

Callum Evans

And here I thought that this only happened at Sunset Dam! Obviously must a much more common habit than I realised.

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