Hippos may look vaguely comical but they are very dangerous animals to be around - far more people are killed by hippos than lions or other large mammals. However they do secrete an oily red sweat that is believed to have powerful antiseptic and sun blocking properties. Strangely (or perhaps not so strangely when you consider that a hippo’s bite is several times more powerful than that of a Great White!) nobody has ever collected a sweat sample from a wild hippo, or at least not before it had dried.
Dr Brady Barr has just returned from a mission in Zambia to harvest sweat samples from hippos in the quest for a new type of sun cream. To protect him he wore a 14 stone (196lb or about 90kg) Hippo suit consisting of a steel-ribbed tube wrapped in bulletproof material and topped with mouldings taken from a female hippo. The suit was reassembled in the African bush, finished off with a daubing of mud and dung to disguise Barr’s scent. Barr would then wait for a hippo to pass then, tap a hippo with a long pole and scoop off fresh drops of its sweat. Well that was the plan anyway...
“I have long believed that hippo sweat can provide breakthroughs in waterproof sun block and antiseptics,” said Barr. “It works for them in some of the harshest environments in the world; it could work for us. But extracting it did not prove to be as easy as we hoped.”
On the first day he was ignored, except by a curious lion and a juvenile elephant, which mock-charged. On another day he was trapped in mud while being eyed by a lone male. A park ranger, Boston Chulu, risked his life trying to squeeze Barr through an escape hatch, but it jammed. The scientist had to crouch inside sweating until the real hippo became bored and wandered off. His mission failed but, Barr said, “we shall be going back to Africa as soon as we can”.
I’m sure that the scientific benefits of Hippo sweat will be worth all the problems (not least being bitten in half by a 3 ton mammal!) but one question springs immediately to mind. Why on earth does he not go off to a zoo and scrape the sweat off a captive animal? Apparently wild animal sweat is rather denser and thus will probably contain more active ingredients,
The things we do (err someone else does) for science!
Cleck here for a video of Dr Barr's adventure