The hippopotamus would be the last animal anyone would imagine could fly, but UK scientists believe the 2,000kg animal can sometimes take to the air.

Researchers at the Royal Veterinary College in Hertfordshire, near London, have reviewed footage of the creature and revealed that the massive animals can take off when they reach their top speed.

The videos show that during a rival hip chase, herbivores lift all four feet off the ground 15 percent of the time, the scientists say. This news finding places hippos among the world’s heaviest land animals — elephants and rhinos — in terms of athletic prowess.

While elephants maintain a walking pace, even the fastest rhinos can walk, trot and even gallop. Hippos, on the other hand, usually trot, as their diagonally opposite legs move in unison.

“I’ve struggled to get any work done on hippos before because they’re so difficult to access. They’re incredibly dangerous, they’re most active at night, and they spend most of their time in spent in water,” John Hutchinson, professor of evolutionary biomechanics, told the Guardian.

To study the animal, researchers sifted through YouTube videos of hippos’ movements and scored them frame-by-frame to see if their feet ever left the ground. Professor Hutchinson sent one of his students to record videos of hippos running as they moved between their stables and water holes and brought the footage back for analysis.

After reviewing these videos, they concluded that hippos usually stick to trotting at whatever speed they are moving, but can become airborne when they are in a hurry.

Professor Hutchinson believes the results of his research could be important for understanding how large animals moved on land, going back to the dinosaurs.

While simple, the research had its challenges. Professor Hutchinson described the study as “mind-numbing” and “really boring, excruciating” because it required going through a large number of videos frame by frame.

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