The web is burning this week with the story of the man who survived being swallowed by a hippo, but what about the people who don’t survive..
Hippos are actually responsible for more human fatalities in Africa than lions or tigers or cheetahs or ostriches or anything else. Apparently, they kill hundreds of people each year.
First, a bit on the hippo. They are the third largest land mammal on earth, after the elephant and the rhinoceros. Their closest relatives are whales, from which they diverged about 55 million years ago. They are semi-aquatic, inhabiting rivers, lakes and mangrove swamps. They spend the day submerged in river mud and come out at dusk to graze on grass. They eat over 100 pounds of vegetation a day. They can kill a crocodile.
Other Great Reads: Uterus, cigars and Ferraris – The fantasy coffins of Ghana
Trouble arises because male hippos actively defend their territories, which run along the banks of rivers such as the Zambezi, where Paul Templer, the man swallowed by the hippo was leading a group of tourists in kayaks.
“I’d been working this stretch of river for years, and the grouchy old two-ton bull had carried out the occasional half-hearted attack,” Templer told the Guardian.
Hippos can run at speeds of over 20 miles an hour and have enormous jaws, with 20 inch canines. Says Templer: “It felt as if the bull was making full use of the whole lot as he mauled me—a doctor later counted almost 40 puncture wounds and bite marks on my body. The bull simply went berserk, throwing me into the air and catching me again, shaking me like a dog with a doll.”
Other Great Reads: How to deal with grief after an accidental death
Despite the fact that hippos kill more people than any other animal in Africa, hippo death stories aren’t exactly floating thickly across the surface of the web.
But I did find this, the curious case of Marius Els, a South African farmer who was savagely killed by his pet hippo in 2011.
Els had raised the hippo himself, since the time it was five months old. He called it Humphrey. Photos taken not long before he was killed show Els riding the hippo through the river, as if he is on a mechanical bull.
People “think you can only have a relationship with dogs, cats and domestic animals,” he told an interviewer. “But I have a relationship with the most dangerous animal in Africa.”
A YouTube video shows Els in a safari hat, feeding Humphrey apples. “It’s a little bit dangerous but I can swim with him,” says Els. “We go in the water and he allows me to get on his back and I ride him like a horse.”
“I trust him with my heart that he will not harm anybody,” Els says at one point.
But late one Saturday evening an ambulance was dispatched to his farm. Els had been bitten several times by Humphrey and held underwater for an unknown period of time. He was declared dead at the scene.
As wild as this story is, I am still left wondering, where are all the other hippo death stories? If you have one please drop us a comment!