Nature photography, political rants, and Martyman laughs from the ten-time award-winning author of "Cool Creatures, Hot Planet," "Endangered Edens," and the "Time Is Irreverent" series.

What is it like to be attacked by a hippo?

Marty’s photo of the day #3526: What is it like to be attacked by a hippo? This excerpt from my newly published sixth book, Hits, Heathens, and Hippos: Stories from an Agent, Activist, and Adventurer, will put you in the canoe with Deb and me. The adventure takes place in Zimbabwe:

As the sun dropped in the sky, an idyllic calm came over the river, and a gentle breeze kept us comfortable. Best of all, the hippos were spread out and moving to deep water without much fuss. I could feel the tension melt off my shoulders. Others in our group seemed to relax as well. The adventure part of our canoe trip was surely behind us, and from now on sunburn would be our greatest worry.

A smile creased my face as I thought about what the next few days would be like: my feet would be enjoying a well-deserved break, the wildlife sightings would be spectacular, and the hippos would be serenading us along the way.

Ah, life on the river would be sweet.

The depth of the Zambezi wasn’t always proportional to the distance from its banks. Sometimes we canoed inches from land and were unable to touch bottom with our paddles; other times we’d nearly run aground at midstream. Actually seeing bottom was rare, however, as the water’s visibility was little more than a foot.

Deb and I were canoeing next to a low, flat riverbank when we felt a sharp bump. Perhaps we’d hit a rock. We were too close to land for it to be a—


Something huge chomped through the middle of our canoe and thrust us into the air!

At first, I thought it was a crocodile. Then I saw the hippo’s giant mouth!

As we continued skyward, my eyes shifted to Deb, who was rising higher than I was. At peak height, our canoe rolled shoreward, dumping us like a front-end loader would. I hit the ground first, followed by Deb—who landed on her side with an eerie thud!

The hippo dropped the canoe and vanished into the river.

Fearing the worst, I scrambled to my feet, calling to my wife, “Deb, are you okay? Deb, are you—”

She jumped up and we both wheeled toward the river, ready to spring out of the way if the hippo came at us again.

“Yes, I think so,” she said while scanning the water. “I’m gonna have some bruises, but nothing feels broken. How ’bout you?”

“I wrenched my back, but I’ll be fine.”

The hippo had dumped us on a shallow bed of mud. Though we looked like pigs after a good wallow, we couldn’t have landed in a better spot. Adding to our good fortune was that despite the ferociousness of the attack, it was over before we fully realized what had happened.

Once we were sure the hippo wouldn’t return, we hugged, whispered “I love you” to each other, and burst into laughter.

“We were attacked by a fucking hippo!” I chortled.

“I know,” Deb said between giggles, “and we’re just filthy!”

“I can’t believe you got up after that fall.”

“Mud is wonderful stuff!”

“A fucking hippo attacked us!”

As we stood by the river, giggling, Skip came running. “Are you guys okay? Is anyone hurt?”

“We’re gonna be a little sore,” Deb said, “but other than that we’re great!”

When Skip realized we were laughing, not crying, he grinned and said, “I saw the entire attack! The hippo lifted your canoe six feet into the air. It was so-ooo cool!”

***You can read the rest of the story in Hits, Heathens, and Hippos, available here:

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 + 5 =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Posts