A tour guide has recalled the horror of being stuck in the throat of a giant male hippo while leading a trip down the Zambezi – Africa’s fourth longest river. Paul Templer, 28, was leading three canoes and three trainee guides on the Zimbabwe section of the Zambezi. The group then came across a pod of about a dozen hippos, something to be expected in this part of Africa. All was calm until Evans, one of the other guides, fell into the water.
Paul recalled: “Suddenly there’s this big thud. And I see the canoe, like the back of it, catapulted into the air. And Evans, the guide in the back of the canoe, was catapulted out of the canoe.
“Evans is in the water and the current is washing Evans towards a mother hippo and her calf 150 metres [490 feet] away. … So I know I’ve got to get him out fast. I don’t have time to drop off my clients.
In an attempt to save his colleague and friend, Paul turned his canoe and headed towards Evans, who was heading towards a female hippo and her calf.
In the process, Paul found himself in a life-threatening situation of his own.He told CNN: “I’m leaning over – it’s kind of a made-for-Hollywood movie – Evans is reaching up. … Our fingers almost touched. And then the water just broke between us. It happened so fast I didn’t see anything.
“My world went dark and strangely still.”I could feel the water from my waist down. I could feel that I was wet in the river. From the waist up it was different. I was warm and it wasn’t wet like the river, but it wasn’t dry either. And there was just this incredible pressure on my lower back. I tried to move; I couldn’t.
“I realised I was up to my waist in the throat of a hippo.The hippo then spat Paul out. He thinks the animal must have felt uncomfortable.Paul tried to reach Evans again, but was hit a second time.
He continued: “I got hit from underneath. So once again I’m up to my waist in the hippo’s throat. But this time my legs are trapped but my hands are free”.
The hippo spat him out a second time. This time Paul could not see Evans.As he tried to swim to safety, the hippo came back for a third attack.
Paul said: “I’m making pretty good progress and I’m swimming along and I come up for the stroke and I’m swimming freestyle and I look under my arm – and I’ll remember this to my dying day – there’s this hippo coming at me with his mouth wide open, lunging at me before he gets a direct hit.
“And then he just goes berserk. … When hippos fight, the way they fight is they try to rip apart and just destroy whatever it is they’re attacking.
“Luckily for me, everything was happening in slow motion. So when he went underwater, I was holding my breath. When we were on the surface, I would take a deep breath and try to hold on to the tusks that were boring through me”, so as not to be torn apart.Paul added that one of the clients who witnessed the attack said it was like a “vicious dog trying to tear a rag doll apart”.
After escaping the jaws of a giant male hippo for the third time, Paul managed to perch himself on a rock in the Zambezi.He was without his belongings, separated from his fellow guides and clients, and his body was badly injured.
Paul recalled: “My left foot was particularly bad; it looked like someone had tried to smash a hole through it with a hammer.” He added that one arm was “crushed to a pulp”.Blood was pouring from his mouth and Paul later realised he had also punctured a lung.
Mack, another guide, saw a large hole in Paul’s back and tried to plug it with Saran Wrap from a plate of snacks.
The group eventually made it out of the river. They were still without Evans, whose body was sadly found three days later. It was concluded that he had drowned as there were no signs of animal attack.After being taken to safety by a Zimbabwean rescue team, Paul was looked after in hospital. At one stage he feared he would lose a leg and both arms. His surgeon didn’t think he would survive.
In the end, the surgeon was able to save Paul’s life, but the tour guide was told he would lose an arm.
Two years after the attack, Paul says he now focuses on what is possible, adding: “If you look for what’s possible, it usually is.”