Jaws of Death: River Guide’s Harrowing Escape from Hippo Attack

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By 5mustsee.com

How a river guide survived a hippo attack – and what you can learn | CNN

Paul Templer was enjoying his life as a river guide. At the age of 28, he was leading tours in Zimbabwe, focusing on photographic safaris after returning from a stint in the British army. Templer found solace in the African bush, surrounded by its wildlife, flora, and majestic outdoors.

Zimbabwe’s guide certification program was demanding, and Templer took pride in showcasing the region’s wildlife to tourists, including the territorial hippos that inhabited the waters.

On March 9, 1996, Templer embarked on a canoe safari down the Zambezi River, substituting for a sick friend. The expedition comprised six clients, three apprentice guides, and Templer. As they paddled downstream, everything seemed to be going smoothly.

Encountering a pod of hippos along the Zambezi, the group initially maintained a safe distance. However, as they drew closer, Templer attempted to steer clear of the animals. His canoe led the group, with the other two canoes and a safety kayak following behind. Despite his efforts to navigate safely, a chain of events led to an unexpected and harrowing encounter with a hippo.


1. What is the story about?

The article narrates the experience of a river guide, Paul Templer, who survived a hippo attack during a canoe safari on the Zambezi River.

2. When did the incident occur?

The incident took place on March 9, 1996, while Templer was leading a canoe safari in Zimbabwe.

3. How did the hippo attack unfold?

As the group approached a pod of hippos, they tried to paddle around them to avoid any confrontation. However, a series of events led to an unexpected encounter with one of the hippos, resulting in a chaotic situation.

4. How did Paul Templer manage to survive the hippo attack?

Despite facing a violent encounter with the hippo that caused significant damage to their canoe and injuries to some members of the group, Templer’s quick thinking and survival instincts helped him navigate through the crisis and eventually survive the ordeal.## Hippos: Huge, Territorial, and Dangerous

Hippos can be quite menacing creatures, as illustrated by a jaw-dropping encounter that wildlife guide Paul Templer had with a hippo while out with clients on a river. In a split second, Templer found himself waist-deep inside the massive mouth of a hippo, a situation both nightmarish and surreal.

The Heart-Pounding Encounter

As Templer was frantically trying to rescue a colleague, Evans, from the path of a hippo and her calf, the situation quickly escalated. Despite the looming danger, he remained determined to save Evans, even as the massive hippo closed in on them both.

In a desperate attempt to ward off the hippo, Templer recalled a trick he had seen in old movies: creating a loud percussive sound by slapping the water with his paddle. Miraculously, the tactic worked, momentarily stopping the charging hippo in its tracks.

With the looming threat still present, Templer maneuvered closer to Evans, reaching out in a cinematic moment that ended abruptly as chaos erupted in the water between them.

Into the Jaws of Danger

The aftermath of the attack plunged Templer into a disorienting and terrifying reality. He found himself in a paradoxical state — from the waist down, submerged in the river, and from the waist up, trapped in the unyielding jaws of a hippo.

Understanding the Threat

Hippos, with their massive size and formidable jaws that can open to a shocking 150 degrees, are nothing to underestimate. These creatures, weighing up to 4.5 tons and armed with sharp canines capable of delivering a bite three times stronger than that of a lion, are built for defense and dominance in their habitats across sub-Saharan Africa.


Q: What are some characteristics of hippos that make them dangerous?

A: Hippos can grow up to 16.5 feet long, stand 5.2 feet tall, and weigh up to 4.5 tons. They have enormous mouths, sharp canines, and a bite force capable of cutting a human body in half.

Q: Where are hippos commonly found?

A: Hippos are naturally found in various parts of sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in East and Southern Africa, inhabiting rivers and water sources.

Q: Are hippos considered invasive species in any region?

A: Yes, hippos have become an invasive species in Colombia due to escapees from drug lord Pablo Escobar’s collection.

In conclusion, encounters with hippos underscore the importance of respecting the immense power and territorial nature of these creatures in the wild. Templer’s harrowing experience serves as a stark reminder of the dangers lurking in the waters where hippos reign supreme.

Hippos are known to be extremely territorial and may display aggressive behavior towards any intruding animals, such as hyenas, lions, and crocodiles.

Hippos and Humans

‘If I say run, you run’: CNN goes searching for Pablo Escobar’s hippos
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        Hippos are also responsible for human fatalities. While some sources suggest approximately 500 deaths annually, the exact number remains uncertain due to unreported incidents in remote areas.

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        When asked about the common misconception regarding hippos being the deadliest animals, Rebecca Lewison, a conservation ecologist and associate professor at San Diego State University, stated in an email interview with CNN Travel, "People are often surprised by the fact that hippos pose a threat to humans. Despite their sluggish appearance and aquatic habitats, interactions with hippos can turn fatal."

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        Dr. Philip Muruthi, the chief scientist and vice president of species conservation and science at the African Wildlife Foundation, mentioned that the AWF lacks reliable data on hippo attacks or fatalities.

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        Despite the need for more comprehensive data collection, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7416829/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a particular study</a> suggests... 

FAQs about Hippos

What animals do hippos usually display aggression towards?

Hippos are known to display aggression towards animals like hyenas, lions, and crocodiles when they encroach on their territory.

How many human fatalities occur due to hippo attacks annually?

While some sources estimate approximately 500 deaths each year, the exact number remains uncertain due to unreported incidents in remote locations.

Why do people find it surprising that hippos can be dangerous?

Despite their slow movements and preference for water environments, hippos can pose a significant threat to humans, leading to fatal outcomes in certain interactions.

Is there credible data available on hippo attacks and fatalities?

According to Dr. Philip Muruthi from the African Wildlife Foundation, there is a lack of reliable data on hippo attacks and fatalities, indicating a need for more comprehensive information gathering.

Understanding the Dangers of Hippopotamus Attacks

Recent studies have shown that the likelihood of a fatal hippopotamus attack ranges from 29% to 87%, which is significantly higher than the risks posed by other dangerous animals such as grizzly bears (4.8%), sharks (22.7%), and crocodiles (25%).

The odds were not in favor of survival for Templer as he faced the terrifying reality of being attacked by a hippopotamus during an expedition. He vividly describes the intense moments of struggle and survival as he fought against the powerful beast.

In a harrowing account, Templer recalls how he found himself trapped in the jaws of the hippopotamus, only to be regurgitated and then pulled back in again during a frantic attempt to rescue his guide, Evans. The ferocity of the attack left him fighting for his life with his legs trapped inside the hippo’s mouth.

Despite his efforts to defend himself, Templer was overpowered by the aggressive male hippo, which eventually released him after a fierce struggle. In the chaos of the attack, Templer lost sight of Evans and was left to navigate the perilous situation alone.

As the relentless hippo continued its assault, Templer found himself in a life-and-death struggle, with his survival instincts kicking in as he avoided being torn apart by the beast. The horrific scene was likened to a savage animal tearing apart its prey, highlighting the brutal and unforgiving nature of hippopotamus attacks.

The ordeal lasted for what felt like an eternity to Templer, with the relentless onslaught of the hippo lasting roughly three and a half minutes. In a stroke of bravery and heroism, an apprentice guide named Mack risked his own life to pull Templer to safety, eventually dragging him to a rock for refuge.

Despite the rescue, the expedition remained in grave danger, showcasing the chaotic and unpredictable nature of wildlife encounters in the wilderness.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: How likely is a hippopotamus attack to be fatal?
A: Studies suggest that the probability of a fatal hippopotamus attack can range from 29% to 87%, making it a highly dangerous encounter compared to other animal attacks.

Q: What was Templer’s experience during the hippo attack?
A: Templer described a terrifying struggle for survival, being trapped in the jaws of the hippo multiple times while trying to rescue his guide, Evans.

Q: How did Templer manage to survive the hippo attack?
A: Templer utilized his survival instincts, holding his breath and clinging onto the hippo’s tusks to prevent being torn apart during the vicious attack.

Q: How long did the hippo attack last?
A: The entire ordeal lasted for about three and a half minutes, with Templer fighting for his life against the relentless hippo.

Q: Who came to Templer’s rescue during the attack?
A: An apprentice guide named Mack showed immense bravery by risking his life to save Templer, eventually pulling him to safety amidst the chaos of the attack.


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   <picture class="image__picture"><source height="1067" width="1600" media="(min-width: 1280px)"  type="image/webp"><source height="1067" width="1600" media="(min-width: 960px)"  type="image/webp"><source height="1067" width="1600" media="(min-width: 480px)"  type="image/webp"><source height="1067" width="1600" media="(max-width: 479px)"  type="image/webp"><img src="–-and.jpg" alt="These hippos patrol their part of manmade Kariba Lake in  Zimbabwe during the evening. People need to be particularly careful in hippo territory as the sun goes down and it gets dark." class="image__dam-img image__dam-img--loading" onload="this.classList.remove('image__dam-img--loading')" onerror="imageLoadError(this)" height="1067" width="1600" loading="lazy"/></source></source></source></source></picture>
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        Residents near hippo habitats face more attack risks compared to tourists, according to Lewison.

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        Lewison noted, "Attacks mostly occur in water. However, due to hippos damaging crops on farms, locals defending their fields also fall victim. While tourists experience some attacks, the primary targets are the residents."

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        The escalating human presence resulting from Africa's population growth exacerbates the risk of deadly interactions, she added.

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        Despite negative encounters, sub-Saharan Africa heavily relies on hippos for ecosystem balance.

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        Muruthi emphasized, "Hippos play a vital role as ecosystem engineers in freshwater environments they inhabit. They aid in nutrient recycling through their consumption of large amounts of vegetation."

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        Lewison clarified, "Hippos attack not for consumption but to establish distance. They are not inherently aggressive, but pressure situations trigger defensive responses."

Stuck on a rock and in a hard place

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        Templer inquired about Evans' whereabouts from Mack upon regaining consciousness on the Zambezi rock. Mack sadly informed him, "He's no longer here."

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        Assessing the dire situation, Templer realized the need for a rescue plan to reach the riverbank, but first, he had to compose himself.

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        With one man missing, crucial supplies gone, and severe injuries, Templer faced a daunting scenario that demanded quick thinking and decisive action.

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        Templer described his injuries, "My left foot was severely damaged, and my arm was crushed. Blood oozed from my mouth, indicating a punctured lung. Despite the pain, I had to stay composed."

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        With quick thinking, Mack improvised a temporary solution by using Saran Wrap to plug a gaping wound on Templer's back, a desperate measure in the face of adversity.

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        Undaunted by the challenges, Templer made the decisive call to escape from the perilous rock, realizing the gravity of their situation.

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        Assisted into a canoe by Ben, Templer faced the persistent threat of the hippo ramming the vessel. Despite the fear, a sense of tranquility enveloped him during the journey.

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        Reflecting on his experiences, Templer shared, "In that moment, I confronted a profound choice between surrender or fighting to survive, a transformative moment of clarity amidst chaos."
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What are some common targets of hippo attacks?

Hippo attacks often target local residents living near hippo habitats, especially those defending their crops from hippo raids.

Why do hippos attack humans?

Hippos usually attack to maintain their distance from humans rather than for predatory reasons. Pressure situations can trigger defensive responses from hippos.

How do hippos contribute to ecosystems?

Hippos play a crucial role as ecosystem engineers in freshwater environments by aiding in nutrient recycling through their consumption of large amounts of vegetation.Experiencing a terrifying ordeal during a river adventure, Ben and Templer managed to escape the danger but unfortunately couldn’t find Evans, whose body was discovered three days later. Evans seemingly drowned as there were no signs of animal involvement in his demise.

The situation caught the attention of onlookers on the shore, prompting a skilled Zimbabwe rescue team to evacuate everyone safely.

Templer, though rescued from the river, faced a challenging journey ahead. After an arduous eight-hour drive to the nearest hospital, he underwent multiple significant surgeries over the following month. The initial prognosis was grim, with the possibility of losing a leg and both arms, and doubts about his survival.

Against the odds, the surgeon not only saved Templer’s life but also preserved his legs and one arm, albeit losing the other arm in the process.

Waking up in the ICU, Templer felt the devastating reality of losing his left hand, a profound blow for someone accustomed to an active lifestyle. Despite the emotional turmoil, he found solace in the survival of his right arm and legs. The subsequent month was a rollercoaster of mixed emotions as he embarked on a journey of physical and occupational therapy, including the fitting of a prosthesis, in both Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom, gradually resuming a semblance of normalcy in his life.


1. What happened to Evans during the river incident?
Evans tragically lost his life, with his body being discovered three days after he went missing. The absence of any animal-related injuries indicated that he had drowned.

2. How did Templer fare after the river ordeal?
Templer faced a challenging recovery process, undergoing multiple surgeries and ultimately losing one arm while managing to save his legs and another arm.

3. How did Templer cope with the loss of his arm?
Initially devastated upon realizing the loss of his left hand, Templer eventually found relief in the survival of his right arm and legs, undergoing therapy to adapt to his new reality.Guidelines for Safe Hippo Encounters

If you find yourself in a situation where you encounter hippos, it is crucial to follow certain guidelines to ensure your safety:

  1. Stay in Your Vehicle: If signs instruct you to remain in your vehicle, it is essential to adhere to this instruction. Avoid driving too close to the animals even while inside your vehicle.
  2. Make Noise: In areas known for hippos, it is advisable to make some noise to alert them of your presence. This can help prevent unexpected encounters.
  3. Avoid Certain Times: Hippos are more active late in the evening and at night for foraging. During these times, it is best to avoid trekking along rivers. Stay especially vigilant during the dry season when food sources are scarce.
  4. Recognize Distressed Hippos: Learn to identify signs of agitation in hippos, such as wide-open mouths, yawning, head movements, grunting, and snorting. If you notice these signs, it’s time to move away.
  5. Safety Precautions: If you attract unwanted attention from a hippo, remember that you cannot outrun them. Instead, try to climb a tree or find an obstacle like a rock or anthill to create distance between you and the animal.
  6. In Watercraft: If you are in a small watercraft and encounter a hippo, be vigilant for signs like bow waves indicating an attack. Making noise or slapping the water may deter the hippo. If knocked into the water, move away from your craft as the hippo may target it.
  7. Viewing from Safety: When observing hippos on the water, it is safer to do so from a larger vessel that is more stable and less prone to capsizing.
  8. Defenseless Against Attacks: Unlike some other wild animals, humans are almost defenseless once a large hippo initiates an attack. In such a situation, fight for survival and seek any opportunity to escape.

Remember, it is essential to respect wildlife and their habitats to ensure safe interactions for both humans and animals.


Are hippos dangerous to humans?
Yes, hippos are considered one of the most dangerous animals in Africa and are responsible for numerous human deaths each year. It is vital to exercise caution and adhere to safety guidelines when in their presence.

What should I do if a hippo charges at me?
If a hippo charges at you, run parallel to the water source to create distance. Avoid getting between a hippo and its young or the water. Try to find a barrier like a tree or rock to protect yourself.

Can I defend myself against a hippo attack?
While it is extremely challenging to defend against a hippo attack, some suggest aiming for sensitive spots like the eyes or vulnerable areas. However, escaping and seeking help is the best course of action.## Finding Resilience After a Hippo Attack: The Inspiring Journey of Paul Templer

Two years following the terrifying hippo attack, Paul Templer embarked on a remarkable expedition with his team, achieving the longest recorded descent of the Zambezi River spanning 1,600 miles over three months.

How did Templer Rediscover Strength and Purpose?

Despite facing immense challenges, Templer found solace in the words of his surgeon, realizing that his life’s path was a result of his choices. This realization fueled his determination to shape his destiny.

Embracing Possibilities over Loss

Templer’s mindset shifted towards embracing what was achievable rather than focusing on his losses. This shift in perspective allowed him to see the potential in every situation.

A New Chapter in the United States

Templer’s resilience led him to start anew in the United States. He found love, authored the book “What’s Left of Me,” and now inspires audiences through his speaking engagements.


Should Fear Deter Safari Adventures?

While Templer’s story is harrowing, experts advise caution, not fear. Seek guidance from professional guides, such as the Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association, to ensure a safe and enriching experience.

Is Templer’s Experience Common?

Templer views his attack as a rare occurrence and encourages others not to be deterred by his past. He emphasizes the importance of knowledgeable guides when venturing into the wild.

What’s Templer’s Advice for Adventurers?

Templer urges individuals to pursue their dreams but emphasizes the importance of expert guidance. His message resonates with a call to explore and embrace life’s adventures with caution and wisdom.

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