British couple survive canoeing collision with Mad Max of the Zambezi
25.01.2013 - 25.01.2013 32 °C
Zambezi Correspondent Liam Stevens
A British couple have survived a savage attack by a hippopotamus while canoeing on the Lower Zambezi River in Zambia. Jennie and Jerry, from the Cotswolds in Gloucester, were enjoying the early stages of their overland tour from Victoria Falls to Dar es Salaam when the incident occurred.
The couple were members of a tour group of 21 travellers and 5 guides who were engaging in a two day canoeing trip along the Zambezi River, from Friday 25th January. The group occupied thirteen canoes which were ostensibly supposed to follow behind the lead boat in single file. Reportedly however, formation dissipated quickly after launching from the banks as the fleet chaotically paddled without order and discipline despite regularly passing pods of hippos.
On the first afternoon of the canoe trip, Jennie and Jerry’s boat was attacked by the hippopotamus locally referred to as “Mad Max”. As the group steered toward the location of the evening campsite on a sand island, their canoe veered slightly off the general pathway established by the lead boats. The couple’s canoe subsequently collided with the rising head of the undetected hippo, smashing a section of the bottom and capsizing the boat. Jennie and Jerry fortuitously avoided injury from the impact and managed to climb onto the inverted canoe without encountering the hippo. The creature did however resurface to threateningly broaden its jaws and bite the canoe. The collision is believed to have been entirely accidental as the hippo rose to the surface unaware of the canoe’s location.
Jennie and Jerry were rescued by the guides in their canoes; however they unfortunately lost a camera. The pair remerged from the harrowing ordeal physically unscathed and in an admirable state of mind considering the circumstances. Jennie’s first reaction upon re-joining the group on the island was “Did anyone get a photo of that?”
Several other canoes from the group were positioned to witness the events which unfolded. One somewhat traumatised observer generously offered his account of the events which unfolded on the Zambezi:
This is a true and accurate account of the fateful incident on the Zambezi River during the late afternoon of Friday 25th January 2013, in accordance with my own best recollections.
I was feeling somewhat exhausted as we drew towards the close of what had been a stressful day of canoeing, largely spent seeking to avoid the numerous hippos to be found in the waters while suffering the great handicap of being completely unable to steer our vessel! Trauma levels had reached a high point navigating around a particularly large pod en route to an appealing-looking beach on the opposite bank, which it subsequently emerged was to be our campsite for the night ahead. A feeling of monumental relief surged over me as we appeared to have reached our destination physically, albeit not emotionally, unscathed. The finishing point was very much in sight.
Since our canoe, Whitney, had somehow secured a place as one of the leaders, I was regularly glancing back to see how other members of the group were faring. Following a momentary lapse of concentration, I heard an almighty thud immediately followed by a piercing female shriek and the distressed shouts of a male, emanating from somewhere in the distance behind us. The instinctive reaction was of course to turn, at which point I witnessed the horrific sight of an upturned canoe in mid-flight, making its rapid and inevitable descent back into the murky abyss absent its former passengers. A moment later I heard the splash and saw the cause of this catastrophic incident… a very angry-looking hippo thrashing and writhing around, baring its enormous, hideous teeth out of the water.
A wave of panic enveloped the entire group as the quicker amongst us realised the nature of the events that were now unfolding before our very eyes. Steve [tour leader] screamed instructions for us to paddle manically towards the shore and we didn’t need telling twice, but at the same time everybody of course wished to assess the severity of the situation and to determine who was involved. The realisation slowly dawned that we may be facing at least one fatality on our African adventure, since attacks by angry three ton hippos do not tend to bode well for the health of human victims! One inevitably begins to fear the worst as a stream of disjointed thoughts rapidly floods the brain upon witnessing a major trauma. However, upon the next blink of an eye, a saturated but very much living Jennie had hauled herself up on top of the stricken, upturned canoe. Where was her husband and boat buddy Jerry, though? The answer appeared to be that he was still thrashing around in the water and thus breathing, but potentially mauled. It was impossible to see from a distance, but one felt that he really should cease said activity and exit the water forthwith! The fear remained as we continued to look on helplessly whilst struggling towards the beach at the same time, but then it seemed that progress was finally being made. He was slowly dragging himself up onto the canoe also, with assistance from his wife to pull him up. But where was that offending creature?!
Within moments we were landing on the beach and were able to obtain a clearer view of what was occurring and to fill the gaps in the picture created by our panic-stricken minds. It was with an overwhelming sense of joy that we realised that both the affected persons were now atop the floating raft that had proved to be their saviour and were very much still in one piece, albeit presumably severely shaken by their ordeal. The local guides moved in to their rescue with great haste and there I conclude my summary of a most miraculous brush with death whereby two of our number defied the eager grasp of the grim reaper …truly a closer shave than any of us would have liked to witness!
- David Keith Bridges Esq (MA Oxon)
After the incident occurred, the canoe was removed from the water to assess the damage. The hippo had smashed a section of the bottom, apparently from bite marks. The canoe has been decommissioned.
The canoe trip resumed the following day; however Jennie and Jerry understandably chose to return to camp. The remaining journey was completed in orderly single file.