Approximately 5 miles north of Seronera, the flowing Seronera River and Orangi River converge to form a deep pool of water called the Retina Hippo Pool. Although hippos are common throughout all the rivers in the surrounding area, the deep pool at Retina is certainly the best spot in the Serengeti to view these enormous and fascinating animals. Retina Hippo Pool is also a great spot to see other animals including crocodiles, baboons, impala, giraffe, elephants and topi.
The most unique feature and compelling draw for visitors to the Retina Pool is that they are permitted to leave the vehicle and view the hippos on foot. The riverbank here is about 10-feet above the pool and it is possible to climb to only few feet away from the approximately 200 hippos that inhabit the pool. Great photography opportunities abound here as the large groups of hippos huddle together, spouting and grunting in the water. Our recommendation is to include a short visit to Retina Hippo Pool on every safari itinerary. It offers a pleasant excursion and presents a refreshing opportunity to stretch those safari legs. It is safe to watch these hippos from the bank as they bask in the water, but they should be avoided if found on land. Hippos are usually placid creatures but can become very aggressive if anything gets between them and water.
Crocodiles are commonly seen basking in the sun along the far shores of the hippo pool. One must approach quietly or else these shy reptiles will quickly hide. Elephants are also common visitors to this section of the Seronera and Orangi Rivers. Accompanied by your guide, you may walk as far as 300 feet to the west of the viewing terrace at Retina Hippo Pool to see the Seronera River. There is a good chance to see elephants drinking here, in this 'less crowded' section of Retina, as fewer hippos occupy this particular area. Sightings of large groups of elephants have been reported here on several occasions. Birding is also particularly good in this area with common species seen including egrets, herons, crowned cranes, Egyptian geese, bare-faced go away birds, kingfishers, hoopoes and the very colorful lilac-breasted roller.
Hippos spend their days submerged in the cool water with only nose, eyes, and ears exposed, blinking in the abundant sunshine of the Serengeti day. Periodically they duck back under the water's surface, and then bobble back up again, blowing excess water from their nostrils and flicking it from their little pink ears. Hippos sometimes remain submerged for extended periods of time; however they must resurface to breathe at least every 3-5 minutes. Sometimes you can witness them squabbling or engaged in rough play with one another, mouths wide open to display their incredibly long canine teeth, and making quite a splash with their huge bodies. All sizes of hippos huddle together here; it's interesting to note that baby hippos will often rest on their mothers' backs when in water that is too deep for them. An adult hippo's skin is thick, bulletproof and accounts for approximately 25% of their weight - however it is still sensitive to sunburn and dry out.
The main reason hippos stay submerged in water during the day is because their vulnerable skin seems unable to stand the effects of the strong equatorial sun. In fact, their skin secretes a pinkish liquid that acts as a sunscreen to protect it from ultraviolet rays, and this is why it is said that hippos turn pink in the sun. When night descends, these stout animals finally emerge from their water bed and graze by starlight under the cool relief of night. In spite of their bulky appearance, hippos are quite swift on the ground and can run faster than a human. Hippos have been known to wander several miles from their pool while grazing, but by the time sunrise burns through the morning haze, these portly beasts will have taken refuge once again in their pool retreat.