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Hippos make a splash return to the River Thames

Hippos once roamed freely across ancient Britain, and now they’ve returned to London after 125,000 years as a giant hippo sculpture is erected on the Thames.

HippopoThames, a six-metre, 28-tonne supersized statue, is the work of Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman. It was unveiled today as part of the Totally Thames festival, a series of cultural events running throughout September to celebrate London’s landmark river.

Inspired by fiction

The sculpture was inspired by a children’s storybook about a hippo, and by the variety of material that washes up on the banks of the Thames each day. The artist was amazed to discover that hippos once swam in the Thames and that their remains have been found underneath what is now Trafalgar Square.

Animals such as hippos, lions and elephants were a common sight in Britain 125,000 years ago. At this time, the banks of the Thames extended as far as Trafalgar Square, and the warmer climate created the perfect conditions for these exotic creatures.

Expert insight

The idea of hippos roaming the banks of the Thames in prehistoric Britain is brought to life at the Museum’s Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story exhibition.  

Dr Victoria Herridge is a post-doctoral researcher at the Museum who will be speaking about ice age mammals at the Totally Thames festival. She said that the One Million Years exhibition has been a huge success and encouraged anyone who hasn’t seen it to visit before it closes on 28 September.  

'The One Million Years exhibition has inspired so many Museum visitors already, telling the rich and complex story of Britain from the earliest humans to arrive here right up to the present day,' she said.

'It’s the last chance to see all of the precious human fossils found in Britain, alongside real specimens of stone age tools and ice age art, and real fossils like a Trafalgar Square hippo.'

Hippos return to the river 

Dr Herridge is delighted that Hofman is putting hippos back into the Thames after all these years.

'It’s wonderful to think that a hippo will be swimming in the Thames once more,' she said.

Hofman’s sculpture follows April Fool’s Day this year, when the Museum posted a hoax video of a hippo swimming in the Thames. 

HippopoThames is Hofman’s first UK commission. The artist previously created a 15-metre tall inflatable rubber duck that travelled the world before floating along the Thames.