In a story that sounds like it came straight from the Bible — or Pinocchio — Paul Templer claims he was swallowed by a hippo while leading a kayak tour down the Zambezi River. The hippo attack happened 17 years ago, but this week Templer recounted the horrifying tale to the Guardian.
Templer was a 27-year-old river guide who had led tours down the Zambezi in Zimbabwe many times and had weathered several of what he considered “half-hearted attacks” by a certain territorial male hippo. Those half-hearted attacks gave Templer no clue as to the potential viciousness of the bull, who attacked one day, apparently out of the blue. The vicious assault killed an apprentice guide before turning on Templer who had approached to try and help his co-worker.
“There was no transition at all, no sense of approaching danger. It was as if I had suddenly gone blind and deaf,” Templer recalled in the Guardian. Templer did not immediately understand what happened to him, though. He said:
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, sulphurous 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 realised I was underwater, trapped up to my waist in his mouth.
Templer was able to wriggle free, but the hippo attacked again, dragging him back underwater. Templer doesn’t know how long he was under (“Time passes very slowly when you’re in a hippo’s mouth”) before the hippo spit him out and Templer was able to make his way to the surface where a co-worker awaited.
Templer suffered close to 40 puncture wounds in the attack. Some of the bite marks were so deep his lung was exposed. His arm was crushed and was eventually amputated. After he recovered from his injuries, Templer bravely returned to his job as a guide.