Hippo Attacks American Tourist Canoeing in Zimbabwe

Humans may not be on a hippopotamuses ideal menu, but a lack of desire to eat a person won’t stop them from aggressively attacking someone that gets too close, as an American tourist recently learned.

While canoeing with her husband on the Zambezi River in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, on Saturday morning, Christine Yaldor, 37, was attacked by a hippo, according to Africa's Eyewitness News. Following the attack, she was airlifted to a hospital in South Africa for treatment.

The catalyst of the attack was when Yaldor and her husband paddled their canoe near the hippo, The Sunday News reported. It was unclear if the couple was aware of the hippo’s location or if the animal was below the water’s surface.

“They came too close to the hippo and it panicked and attacked their boat,” a witness told The Sunday News. “The woman was injured on her right leg in the process.”

Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesperson Tinashe Farawo confirmed that a woman was injured during the attack and said she had her wounds treated. Farawo reiterated that hippos, like all wild animals, can be dangerous and people should avoid contact with them even if they appear docile.

“Our message remains the same, we urge tourists to be vigilant and extra careful,” Farawo said. "Never underestimate these animals. Simply stay away from them. Let us be careful and avoid unnecessary deaths and injuries.”

hippo attack A hippo is seen at the Hacienda Napoles theme park, once the private zoo of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar at his Napoles ranch, in Doradal, Antioquia department, Colombia, on June 22, 2016. On Saturday, an American tourist in Zimbabwe was attacked by a hippo while canoeing. RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images

Victoria Falls is along the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia and one of Africa’s most famous tourist towns.  Along with a view of the cascading waterfall, Victoria Falls gives tourists the opportunity to see wild animals such as elephants and rhinos on safari and enjoy local cuisine and shopping.

The Zambezi River runs from Zambia to Mozambique before emptying into the Indian Ocean, according to CNN. Tourists can rent inflatable kayaks and paddle through the water, home to hippos and crocodiles.

"Crocs aren't usually a problem, but let's not tempt them by dangling our hands in the river," guide Rob Shattock told CNN writer Tim Johnson during a trip.

Often warming hearts with an ear wiggle or pictured in one’s mind as Hyacinth Hippo, dancing around in a clear yellow tutu and ballet slipper, hippos can be thought of to be cute, loveable giants. However, the multi-ton animal is not one to be fooled with.

Growing up to 14 feet long, hippos usually weigh between 1.5 tons and four tons, according to National Geographic. Aptly named the “river horse” by the Greeks, hippos spend up to 16 hours a day submerged in rivers and lakes, although they're not related to horses. Hippos are aggressive and will use their large teeth and tusks to defend themselves against threats, including human beings who enter their space.

In 2016, BBC News labeled hippos the world’s deadliest large land mammal and reported they kill an estimated 500 people per year in Africa.  Along with yawning, a hippo will make a sound like a laugh, but unlike with human beings when it signals joy, when a hippo laughs, it’s time to run.

"They don’t go out and hunt humans, but if you encounter them on the way back to the water and you are in between,” Johan Eksteen, a South African conservation ecologist told BBC News. “Then you have to make a plan!”

In September, a 49-year-old German woman was trampled to death by an elephant at Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe. Farawo said at the time that the woman left the vehicle she was in to take the photo.

Another man, identified as Frank Sternhardt, 56, was walking to his hotel in Victoria Falls when he was attacked by an elephant. Local residents used catapults to launch items at the elephant and successfully scared it off, at which point the man was rescued. Farawo called the man "lucky to be alive" and suspected that he got too close to the animal and the elephant became uncomfortable. 

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