WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 (UPI) -- Hippos were once thought by most biologists to be herbivores.
While reports of hippos stealing prey from alligators and scavenging carcasses occasionally surface, the scientific literature has offered little hard evidence of meat consumption.
A new collaborative study, however, suggests meat consumption among hippos may not be as rare as previously thought.
Anecdotal incidents of meat consumption by hippos were previously disregarded -- explained away as unusual or abhorrent behavior. The latest survey suggests such behavior is not simply individualistic, but shared among peers.
"Field studies have demonstrated that hippos are facultative carnivores that consume flesh and intestinal tissues from the carcasses of other animals," researchers wrote in a new paper, published in the journal Mammal Review. "Carnivory is frequently associated with communal feeding involving multiple individuals or entire social groups of hippos."
The prevalence of meat consumption has been linked with anthrax outbreaks among hippo populations.
"The phenomenon of carnivory by hippos is crucial to an understanding of their susceptibility to this disease," study co-author Joseph Dudley said in a press release.
"These reports fit the fact that hippos are the closest living relatives of whales, which are all carnivorous," added co-author Marcus Clauss.