Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

NATURE: Hippo King

A hippo cow lifts herself from the water.
Courtesy of © Terra Mater Factual Studios + Skyland Productions + Into Nature Productions
A hippo cow lifts herself from the water.

Premieres Wednesday, April 6, 2022 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV + Sunday, April 10 at 8 p.m. on KPBS 2 / On Demand

From Zambia’s Luangwa Valley, an old, battle-scarred hippo bull has an incredible story to tell. Previously hippos were almost always misunderstood because their secret life happens beneath the water and under the cover of darkness. This tale imagines a story of 35 years from when the hippo was a vulnerable orphan to the ultimate battle that crowns him king decades later. From birth to exile to redemption, follow the life of the “Hippo King” and discover the true character of one of Earth’s largest land mammals.

NATURE: Preview of Hippo King

Featured Creatures:

  • • Hippopotamus
  • • Nile crocodile
  • • Oxpecker
  • • Lion
  • • Egyptian goose
  • • Thornicroft’s giraffe
  • • African elephant
  • • Spotted hyena
  • • Vulture
  • • Vervet monkey
  • • Puku antelope
  • • Leopard
Mother Hippo Protects Calf from Lions and Crocodiles

Buzzworthy Moments:

  • • After spending time bonding with her son, a mother hippo leads her calf into the main pod, where the rest of the hippos live, for the first time. The calf huddles near its mother and other calves for protection as its father lurks nearby, using his razor-sharp tusks to establish dominance with any hippo that appears to be a threat.
  • • The mother hippo loses strength in her old age and dies next to her calf. Predators such as lions, vultures and crocodiles take advantage of this feast and approach her body. The calf makes a heartbreaking decision to leave his mother’s body behind to protect himself and escape fast-chasing lions.
  • • As the calf returns to the river, he is met with a challenge and exclusion. The dominant bull makes his way to the calf and fights him off, forcing the calf to find a new home. The calf spends his time alone, grazing during the night as he cautiously avoids predators like hyenas.
  • • As the seasons change, the calf grows larger, as does his ambition to become the dominant bull. When he returns to the river as a fully grown bull, the dominant bull comes out of the water, bearing his tusks and ready for battle. The two aggressively fight, bite and chase after each other, until the older bull retreats in defeat. He has now won the dominant position and title “Hippo King.”
Young Hippo Mourns Mother's Death

Noteworthy Facts:

  • • Oxpeckers are little birds that clean hippos’ wounds and remove parasites. Submerging underwater is the only way hippos can get rid of the oxpeckers.
  • • Kigelia africana, known as sausage trees, bears a fruit that resembles the shape of a sausage. This “tree of life” blooms when the drought is at its worst and is the only source of food during this time.
Elephants and Hippos Play Hide and Seek

Watch On Your Schedule:

NATURE is available for streaming concurrent with broadcast on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS Video App, available on iOS, Android, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO.



A production of The WNET Group, Terra Mater Factual Studios, Skyland Productions, and Into Nature Productions in association with Doclights/NDR Naturfilm. The documentary is directed by Will and Lianne Steenkamp. Narrated by Russell Boulter. Andrea Gastgeb and Sabine Holzer are executive producers for Terra Mater Factual Studios. NATURE is a production of The WNET Group. Fred Kaufman is executive producer. Bill Murphy is series producer and Janet Hess is series editor.