Swallowed By Hippo: What Happened To River Guide Paul Templer?

By Philip Ross on May 9, 2013 2:45 PM EDT

swallowed by hippo
The hippo has the strongest jaw of any mammal in the wild. One man found out the hard way just how strong the hippo's jaw is when he was nearly swallowed by a hippo in Africa. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Nearly swallowed by a hippo? That's the story that African river guide Paul Tyler tells, and it's a story that sounds a lot more like a work of fiction than a true tale of survival.

Then again, Templer has the 40-odd puncture wounds and bite marks on his body to prove that he was nearly swallowed by a hippo. In an article Templer wrote for the Guardian, he describes in vivid detail the day, now over 17 years ago, when he found himself halfway down a hippo's throat.

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Nearly Swallowed By "Grouchy" Hippo

"The hippo who tried to kill me wasn't a stranger -- he and I had met before a number of times," Templer begins his tale.

Templer was 27 years old at the time, leading kayak tours down the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe. It was a stretch of river he had worked for many years. The "grouchy" hippo bull was a regular visitor on Templer's route, and Templer says he had simply learned to avoid him. From the Guardian:

That day I'd taken clients out with three apprentice guides - Mike, Ben and Evans - all in kayaks. We were near the end of the tour, the light was softening and we were taking in the tranquillity. The solid whack I felt behind me took me by surprise.

The bull had lifted up the kayak behind Templer, tossing that boat's guide into the water. That's when Templer told everyone else to get to shore, and he turned around to save his friend. He wrote:

I reached over to grab his outstretched hand but as our fingers were about to touch, I was engulfed in darkness. There was no transition at all, no sense of approaching danger. It was as if I had suddenly gone blind and deaf.

Templer says he smelled the scent of rotten eggs, and that there was a tremendous pressure on his chest. His arms were trapped, but when he managed to wriggle one of his hands free, he felt the bristles of the hippo's snout. That's when he knew he was inside the hippo's mouth.

"The bull simply went berserk, throwing me into the air and catching me again, shaking me like a dog with a doll," he said.

After struggling, the hippo spit Templer out. He was later rushed to the hospital; one of his lungs was visible.

Templer's friend and fellow guide did not survive the hippo attack.

The Hippo, A Worthy And Deadly Adversary

The hippopotamus, found mostly in the rivers and lakes of sub-Saharan Africa, weighs between 5,000 and 8,000 pounds and can reach 14 feet in length. According to National Geographic, the hippo, which can live up to 40 years, spends about 16 hours a day submerged under water. Their high eyes and nostrils allow them to see and breathe while the rest of their bodies are underwater.

It was once believed that hippos sweat blood, due to the oily red substance the hippo secretes from its skin. The liquid, contrary to myth, is a skin moistener and sunblock that some scientists believe also acts as an aegis against germs. According to NBC News, some people even want to try and market the substance as a human sunblock product.

Hippos go onto dry land after sunset in order to graze. They consume over 100 pounds of vegetation a day.

Hippo attacks are not uncommon in Africa, and on the spectrum of dangerous animals, they're at the top; BBC Travel reports that the hippo is responsible for more human deaths in Africa than any other large animal.

Back in 2011, a South African farmer name Marius Els, 40, was mauled to death by a hippo that he kept as a pet. Huffington Post reports that Els and the photo were about as friendly as a man and a hippo can be; Els even rode on the hippo's back. But their relationship turned sour when the hippo chomped down on Els and dragged him into the water. Authorities later found Els' body and pronounced the farmer dead at the scene.

Read more from iScience Times:

Shark Attack Florida: How Did 16-Year-Old Surfer Michael Adler Survive Vicious Shark Attack?

Bear Mauling in Montana; Company Fined $9,000: How Common Are Bear Attacks?

Mount Everest Brawl: Why Did A Mob Of Angry Sherpas With Axes Attack Climbers?

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