The age-old question of who would win in a fight between a hippo and an elephant has puzzled many. These two heavyweights of the animal kingdom seem almost equally matched in size and power. But when it comes down to it, one combatant has some key advantages that tip the scales in its favor.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: the elephant’s sheer size, intelligence and tusked weaponry make it the likely winner against the aggressive but smaller hippo.

Size and Strength

Hippo Size and Strength

The hippopotamus is one of the largest mammals on land. An adult male hippo can reach a length of up to 5 meters (16 feet) and weigh over 3,200 kilograms (7,000 pounds). Their stout body shape gives them incredible strength.

Hippos have short, thick legs that support their massive frame and allow them to run at speeds of up to 30 kilometers per hour (19 miles per hour) over short distances. Their jaw structure provides a bite force of over 2,000 pounds per square inch, enough to easily crush a crocodile.

With their imposing size and astounding strength, hippos are considered one of the most dangerous animals in Africa.

Elephant Size and Strength

Elephants are the largest existing land animals. African elephants can reach heights over 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) and weigh up to 7 tons. Their trunks alone can weigh over 140 kg (300 lb). Elephants have pillar-like legs that carry their huge bulk.

Their strength allows them to push down trees and flip over small vehicles. An elephant’s trunk is powerful enough to lift objects as heavy as 350 kg (770 lbs). Their tusks can grow over 3 meters (10 feet) long and weigh over 90 kilograms (200 pounds).

With their massive size and Herculean strength, elephants can ravage the landscape and are a formidable opponent.

Size and Strength Comparison

While elephants are usually taller and heavier, hippos are generally more muscular and have more aggressive temperaments. Here is a comparison of their size and strength:

Measurement Hippo Elephant
Height Up to 1.5 m (5 ft) at shoulder Up to 4 m (13 ft) at shoulder
Weight 1,500 – 3,200 kg (3,300 – 7,000 lb) 4,000 – 7,000 kg (8,800 – 15,400 lb)
Bite Force Over 2,000 psi 700 – 1,000 psi
Top Speed 30 km/h (19 mph) 40 km/h (25 mph)

While elephants have the advantage in sheer size, hippos have a more robust build and stronger bite force pound for pound. Their confrontational attitude also gives them an edge in aggression. Overall, the evidence suggests that a hippo could hold its own against an elephant if a conflict arose between the two heavyweights.


Hippo Teeth and Jaws

The hippo possesses an intimidating set of ivory tusks and a powerful bite. Its tusk sizes range from just 20cm to an incredible 50cm in length (about 8 to 20 inches). With these razor-sharp teeth protruding menacingly from its large mouth, a hippo can open its jaws at a 150° angle showcasing an astonishing bite force.

We’re talking an intense 8,100 newtons (1,800 lbf) of bite pressure, which is enough to easily chomp through thickset plant matter like grass or branches. This dwarfs a lion’s already impressive 650 newtons – a hippo’s bite could cut through a small metal pipe!

A hippo’s lower canines work with its massive cheek teeth, enabling it to tear and shred food before consumption. With such an intimidating set of chompers, it’s no wonder hippos are considered the most dangerous mammals in Africa, responsible for an estimated 500 human fatalities every year.

Elephant Tusks and Trunk

The elephant flaunts an equally remarkable set of elongated teeth protruding from its upper lip in the form of mighty tusks. Ranging anywhere from just a few inches to an astonishing 11 feet (3.4 m) in length, an adult male’s tusks can weigh a whopping 200 pounds (90 kg) each.

Elephants use these mega teeth for digging, lifting, fighting, defense and obtaining bark, roots, and water by debarking trees.

An elephant’s trunk is a powerful, versatile weapon and tool. Capable of picking up over 400 pounds (180 kg), this highly sensitive proboscis has over 40,000 muscles and tendons. Elephants utilize their trunks to communicate, breathe, smell, lift, drink, eat, touch, bathe, defend themselves, wrestle opponents, and even affectionately caress their young.

With such an incredible appendage, an elephant can deliver devastating blows while defending itself from predators.

Weapons Comparison

Hippo Elephant
Teeth 20-50cm long tusks
8,100 newton bite force
Up to 11ft long tusks weighing 200lb each
Other Weapons Powerful, versatile trunk for hitting, lifting, throwing

While the hippo has an extraordinarily mighty bite, the elephant’s array of weapons with its long tusks and muscular trunk pose a formidable threat. Hippos may have the strongest bite force, but elephants can do more damage with their elongated teeth and trunk which enables them to attack from a safer distance.

Aggression and Intelligence

Hippo Aggression

Hippos are considered one of the most aggressive animals on Earth. Despite their stocky shape and short legs, they can easily outrun a human and have sharp teeth that can be over a foot long. According to National Geographic, hippos are responsible for killing an estimated 500 people per year in Africa.

Male hippos are especially territorial and will actively defend their stretch of river or lake. Using their large teeth and jaws, a hippo can crush a canoe or break a crocodile in half. Their powerful bites have been measured at over 1,800 pounds per square inch, making them one of the strongest bite forces on land.

If provoked, hippos will charge with their mouth open and attempt to slash or bite their opponent.

Elephant Intelligence

Elephants have highly developed brains, even compared to other intelligent animals. Their cortex has as many neurons as a human brain, allowing complex thought and advanced problem solving abilities. Their hippocampus is also large, providing elephants with strong long term memory.

Studies have shown that elephants display self-awareness, tool use, cooperation, and potentially even empathy. They mourn their dead through burial rituals and likely have cultural transmission of knowledge between generations.

All of these behaviors point to a highly advanced level of intelligence within elephant communities.

Behavioral Advantages

Hippo Elephant
Agility Faster on land and in water Slower moving
Bite Force 1,800 psi – Strongest bite force 500 psi
Herd Cooperation Limited Advanced, work together

While hippos have the advantages in bite strength and speed, elephants showcase more complex cooperative behaviors that could give them an edge. Elephants move in tightly bonded family groups and will come to each other’s aid when threatened.

By working together, groups of elephants can often intimidate or outmaneuver solitary aggressive hippos.

Historical Encounters

Observed Hippo-Elephant Fights

Throughout history, there have been several observed altercations between hippos and elephants in the wild. These massive animals inhabit many of the same areas in sub-Saharan Africa, so confrontations are not uncommon as they compete for resources.

Here are some notable hippo-elephant fights that researchers and wildlife experts have witnessed:

  • In Kruger National Park in South Africa, a young bull hippo was observed chasing an elephant cow and calf during a drought when water resources were scarce. The hippo continuously charged at the pair until they retreated.
  • During a severe drought in Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park, hippos were seen taking over the limited water holes, confronting elephants that attempted to drink. Several charges and vocal threats were observed as the hippos tried to intimidate the larger pachyderms.
  • A wildlife documentary filmed a herd of elephants in Namibia as they approached a watering hole occupied by dozens of hippos. When the elephants got too close, the hippos aggressively chased them away, snapping their jaws and slashing with their tusks to defend their territory.

These types of encounters demonstrate the hippo’s ferocious and territorial nature when threatened. Even though elephants can be several times larger, hippos will not back down easily and are prepared to pick fights with the giant mammals if required.

Injuries and Outcomes

When hippos and elephants do battle, the results can be quite dramatic due to the enormous size and power of these two species:

  • Hippo tusks can inflict severe lacerations and deep puncture wounds on elephants during attacks. There are reports of elephants bleeding out and dying from injuries sustained by the sharp tusks slashing their legs and abdomens.
  • Likewise, elephant tusks and feet can crush and fracture hippo bodies, break limbs and cause other traumatic injuries. Without access to medical care, severely wounded hippos often perish after intense fights.
  • According to wildlife experts, most physical altercations result in the hippo retreating once the elephant counterattacks. The elephant’s sheer size is extremely intimidating, and a direct hit from tusks or feet can injure a hippo quite severely.

In most observed hippo vs elephant battles, the hippo initiates the aggression while the elephant fights back only as a response. Ultimately, the elephant’s massive size advantage gives it an edge, but the hippo can still pose a major threat with its deadly tusks and jaws snapping. Protracted battles between these two titanic opponents are rare, but when they do occur, the injuries sustained and disruption to the surrounding ecosystem can be significant.


While hippos shouldn’t be underestimated, elephants hold key advantages in a fight. Their far greater size and weight, paired with sharp tusks and highly intelligent strategic minds, would likely overwhelm even an aggressive hippo.

Of course, either combatant could get in lucky blows, but the elephant’s advantages make it the safer bet to win.

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