River guide Paul Templer was an experienced traveler by the age of 27; he led tours down the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe many times, and had encountered rambunctious animals there before. But none would prove to be so terrifying as the hippo that nearly ate him 17 years ago.
Templer recently sat down and wrote his tale for the Guardian and says he had met the same hippo before; it had even rushed at him in a “half-hearted” way when he moved to close to its territory. But on this day, the bull would become so agitated that a half-hearted attack grew into a full-fledged riot.
“We were near the end of the tour, the light was softening and we were taking in the tranquillity,” Templer wrote. “The solid whack I felt behind me took me by surprise. I turned just in time to see Evans, who had been flung out of his boat, flying through the air. His boat, with his two clients still in it, had been lifted half out of the water on the back of the huge bull hippo.”
Templer says he shouted to the other guides to get their clients to safety before turning to try and grab Evans. But just as he was about to grab the man’s hand, he was enveloped in darkness.
“There was no transition at all, no sense of approaching danger. It was as if I had suddenly gone blind and deaf,” he says.
What happened next is enough to make any reader shudder in terror.
“I was aware that my legs were surrounded by water, but my top half was almost dry. I seemed to be trapped in something slimy. There was a terrible, sulfurous smell, like rotten eggs, and a tremendous pressure against my chest. My arms were trapped but I managed to free one hand and felt around – my palm passed through the wiry bristles of the hippo’s snout. It was only then that I realized I was underwater, trapped up to my waist in his mouth.”
He managed to free himself when the hippo took a breath, only to be dragged under again. Just when he began to resign himself to a dark, watery death, the animal spat him out and he was dragged to safety by his friends. He was alive, but just barely; the hippo left him with over 40 puncture wounds–one so deep that part of his lung was visible–and only one arm.
As for Templer’s friend Evans, he wasn’t so lucky. His body was found downriver two days later.
“Attempts were made to find and kill the rogue hippo, but he seemed to have gone into hiding,” Templer says. ” I’m convinced, though, that I met him one more time. Two years later I led an expedition down the Zambezi and as we drifted past the stretch where the attack had taken place, a huge hippo lurched out of the water next to my canoe. I screamed so loudly that those with me said they’d never heard anything like it. He dived back under and was never seen again. I’d bet my life savings it was the same hippo, determined to have the final word.”