Marty’s photo of the day #4068: Can an entire canoe fit sideways into a hippo’s mouth? I took this photo in Zimbabwe shortly after my wife, Deb, and I proved—yes, it most definitely can!
For those who don’t already know the story, here’s an excerpt from my first book, Cool Creatures, Hot Planet: Exploring the Seven Continents:
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—
Grrrrrraaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! 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 a hippo’s giant mouth!
As we continued skyward, my eyes shifted to Deb, who was rising higher than I was. At peak height, the 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 twisted 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,” said Deb 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,” said Deb, “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 soooo cool!”
When the hippo struck, the rest of our group was ten canoe lengths downriver. After pulling ashore, they ran back to us.
“Deb, Marty, are either of you injured?” asked Brian.
“No, we’re fine,” I said. “Look at what the hippo did to our canoe!”
We had been paddling a heavy-duty, wooden-keeled, fiberglass Canadian canoe. The hippo’s upper teeth had snapped the gunwale, and its lower teeth had smashed through the bottom of the canoe, ripped out a sixteen-inch-long section of keel, and pierced my dry bag and daypack. The canoe was beyond repair, but we could mend the dry bag and daypack once we reached camp.
“Eighteen bloody years, and this has never happened before!” said Brian.
“Sorry to break your winning streak,” said Deb.
The attack troubled Brian so much that he immediately conferred with Humphrey to figure out what they, as guides, had done wrong. Jill, Sam, Joe, and Susan were also troubled and obviously debating internally whether to continue on the canoe trip. As for Deb and me, we were still giggling away.
“I can’t believe you two are laughing about this,” said Jill. “If the hippo had attacked Sam and me, we’d be totally freaked out.”
“The only way I can explain it, Jill, is that Deb and I have just lived through something very few people have ever experienced. I feel like we’ve been given a gift.”
“All I can say is that it happened to the right couple,” said Joe. “If it had happened to Susan and me, we’d be done. As it is, we may still be done.”
“Yes, we’re very fortunate the hippo chose your canoe,” added Skip. “You two have handled the situation perfectly.”
(Note: The above story is also repeated in a slightly different form in my sixth book, Hits, Heathens, and Hippos: Stories from an Agent, Activist, and Adventurer.)