Defying All Odds: The Amazing Tale Of A Hippo Attack Survivor

By: Ene Ayegba | Last updated: Oct 08, 2023

Paul Templer, an experienced wildlife guide and conservationist, embarked on a routine boat safari in the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe, Africa.

But little did he know that he was about to face a life-threatening encounter with one of Africa’s most dangerous animals: The hippopotamus. Let’s find out how it all happened.

Man vs. Hippo: Setting the Scene

Former tour guide Paul Templer was 28 when he was attacked by an enormous hippo while conducting a tour in Zimbabwe. He had served in the British army and had just returned to work as a guide in 1996 before the incident happened.


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On that fateful day, Paul was leading a canoe safari down the Zambezi River. “I loved that part of the river. It was an area I know like the back of my hand,” he recounted.


Beyond the River’s Calm

Paul, six people, and three apprentice guides were on the tour. They were divided into a group of three, and each group toured in a three-person canoe, with the extra person in a one-person safety kayak. 


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At first, the tour was going smoothly, with everyone enjoying their adventure. However, along the way, they came across about a dozen hippos. This surprised them because hippos were not typically found in the river Zambezi.

The Calm Before the Storm

Despite the appearance of the sudden dangerous visitors, there was no panic. They planned to go around the herd of hippos, but it didn’t go well. Recounting the experience, Paul said, “Suddenly, there was a big thud, and I saw the canoe flying in the air with Evans, the tour guide at the back of the canoe, thrown out.”


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Paul’s canoe was at the front while the other canoes fell back, a situation that he couldn’t explain because he didn’t know how it happened.

Hippopotamus Unleashed

Luckily for them, the tourists swam to safety, but it was an entirely different situation for Paul and Evans. Paul said he saw a torpedo-like bow wave moving toward him, and he knew it was either one of the enormous hippos or a giant crocodile charging at him. 


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He slapped the water’s surface, a life-saving technique that was supposed to scare the water animal away. Although the torpedo wave stopped, the action was not enough to deter the animal, as the hippo suddenly acted.

Halfway Into a Hippo

Paul said, “I could feel the water from my waist down; I could feel I was wet in the river. My waist up was different. I was warm, and it was not wet like the river, neither was it dry. There was a powerful pressure on my lower back, and I could not move when I tried to.” 

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Paul realized he was halfway down in a hippo’s throat, but he got lucky. He was positioned in the hippo’s throat in a way that must have been uncomfortable for the animal because it spat Paul back out.


The Great Struggle

He swam up to the surface for air and found himself beside Evans, who still needed help. They were both trying to swim out of danger when Paul was hit again from below. This time around, his legs were trapped, but his hands were free; the hippopotamus did not give up. 


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Paul was trying to get away from the creatures again when he looked in the water and saw the hippo charging at him with its mouth wide open.


A Light At the End of the Tunnel

The third time, Paul ended up sideways in the animal’s mouth, and it tried to rip Paul apart. Fortunately for him, the whole process happened slowly. He could fill his lungs with air every time he surfaced and was able to hold his breath underwater for a long time. 

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He was eventually saved by Mack, one of the other guides. “Mack showed incredible bravery by pulling his boat very close to me and dragging me to the safety of a rock, risking his life to save mine,” Paul recalled.


A Narrow Survival

After being swallowed three times, Paul was severely injured. He had punctured lungs and many holes in several parts of his body caused by the hippo’s sharp and enormous canines. He even lost an arm to the attack. Ben and some other guide went to look for Evans, but it was too dark, so they retreated. 


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The day did not end well because they did not find Evans. His body was found two days later without a single scratch; he had drowned.


A Hippo Life Hack

When discussing how to survive a hippo attack, Paul said, “If a hippo is going to be attacking, you’ll see it coming way before; you will see a bow wave. If you slap the water, the percussion times 99.9 times out of 100 will turn the hippo. If you happen to be in a canoe and a hippo knocks you in the water, get away from the canoe.” 

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“The hippo will go after the canoe, thinking it’s another animal coming for its territory.” He ended his advice with this important statement: “Try not to panic.”