When I got attacked by a hippo

Great things never happen in your comfort zone. The scariest things are often most worth doing. So I take risks sometimes. Always a calculated risk, but there’s that chance something might go wrong. This time something almost went very wrong and I didn’t even think I was taking a risk.

It was one of my biggest dreams to visit the Okavango Delta in Botswana. I’d seen it in several nature series and the most recent Planet Earth II series also featured the biggest inland Delta in the world. The streams and canals are surrounded by reeds and papyrus, covering an area as big as Switzerland. The Delta are home to all sorts of animals, hippos, crocs and over 400 bird species. It’s an intriguing place that attracts people from all over the world.

One of the best ways to explore the Delta is by mokoro. This is a sort of traditional canoe. A local poler will navigate the mokoro through the canals, while also watching out for hippos and crocs. Call me naive, but somehow this only excited me and I wasn’t really aware of any danger. They do this trip daily and I didn’t think a tour company would put a dangerous activity in its itinerary. We visited in March, rain season, which means water levels are high. The poler explained to us that usually hippos stay in specific pools in the Delta where it is deep enough for them. Now the water lever had risen so much the hippos spread throughout the entire Delta. Also into the smaller channels. It was not until he was pushing our mokoro through a very narrow canal that I realized a hippo encounter would be very dangerous. There was nowhere we could possibly flee to.

I asked our guide if hippos ever attacked or flipped the boat. He laughed at my question and said that it did happen at times. ‘ But don’t worry, you can recognize them by the bubbles in the water’. A little more aware of movement in the water we continued our trip. As you can see in the picture there’s a lot of reeds and plants which makes it a lot more difficult to spot anything. Still I felt calm and relaxed being on the water. That was until I suddenly heard an enormous roar behind me. I turned around I saw the teeth of a hippo coming towards us. Its huge mouth snapped toward our mokoro and missed it by 1cm (not exaggerating). It wasn’t until I saw the face of the poler that the severity of the situation dawned on me. Fear was written all over his face. Our Mokoro was swaying heavily and I was getting ready to swim. I knew my chances of survival would be slim once I was in the water. What happened next is all a blur. Our poler somehow managed to balance the mokoro and push us into the reeds. By some miracle the hippo chose to leave us alone after that. We moved forward while me and my friend were still shaking. We still had half an hour to go in the mokoro and when the initial shock had worn we had fits of laughter. When you know the hippo is responsible for more human fatalities in Africa than any other large animal,  you don’t take an attack by one lightly.

People that hear the story afterwards call me crazy for even getting in a canoe in hippo infested waters. Maybe I am a little crazy, but I never regretted going on the trip. Sometimes you have to decide something is worth the risk. Otherwise you’ll end up doing nothing at all. I hope I live a very long life, but if I die doing something a little crazy at least I lived my life to the fullest.