I found a donga (the bank of a gully) along the way, which I jumped over and stood on the other side. I was confident that even if this were a super athletic hippo, the Michael Jordan of hippos, it would take him a month to jump across that part of the donga. “This would buy me time to get into AWF’s research vehicle,” I thought. Indeed, when the hippo finally caught up with me, there was a donga separating us. I think that donga saved my life because all the big trees where in Kaizer’s direction and there was no way I could out sprint a charging hippo to get to them.
The hippo stood on the other side, looking at me and at the donga at the same time. Understandably, he was furious. He had been infuriated and wanted us to feel his wrath, or the sharpness of his enormous tusks. In addition, he was still bellowing, as if saying: “I’m coming for you buddy, just wait until I jump this trench.” For a moment I stopped the idiocy of comtemplating the hippo’s lack of athleticism and ran into the car. Meanwhile the hippo went to the shallow end of the donga at the same time looking at the car with malevolent hatred.
[caption id="attachment_2101" align="aligncenter" width="334" caption="Hundreds of hippos are shot each year in “controlled management” schemes, despite the fact that hippos are easily deterred by ditches or low fences."][/caption]
When I got in, my whole body was in tremors. I started the car and revved the engine with my trembling right foot in the hopes scaring the hippo away. That was a big mistake because the hippo took it as a challenge opened its mouth and came for the car. My thoughts were: “Uh oh, what am I going to tell AWF happened to the vehicle, which by the way was kindly donated to us to carry out leopard work; not to wrestle hippos?” I reversed the car away from the hippo. There was dust everywhere. The hippo suddenly stopped looked at me and then ran into the bushes and disappeared. All I could hear were branches breaking and his angry bellows.
Meanwhile, Kaizer was still up in the tree, out of sight. I cautiously opened the car window and shouted that the hippo was gone. Something tells me that Kaizer didn’t believe me because he stayed there for about fifteen minutes after the hippo had left. When he eventually emerged he looked traumatized, but obliviously walking in the same direction that the hippo had gone. I jumped out of the car and mentioned that he was following the hippo. I have never seen so much fear on a man’s face before. He ran like an Olympic sprinter with his eyes bulging out. He threw himself into the car. Nothing was mentioned of the hippo until we got back to camp that evening. But the trauma stayed with us for days after that. Our senses became sharp. We ran from elephants that were at least 200 metres from us, we even ran from the noise caused by the wind against the trees. In the end I had had enough of running with those heavy batteries and cameras and one day when we were about to leave the vehicle I said to Kaizer: “Okay, before we go out there, when do we run and when do we walk?” We decided then that we would not run again and then normality ensued. That afternoon we confidently walked past a herd of elephants and a big elephant bull.
We started to respect and appreciate the field way more than ever before. It was a great lesson. It was stupid of us to disrespect the poor animal. We were lucky to survive the attack.
Unfortunately Kaizer left the leopard project and in the months that followed, I worked with Mr Ozias Kubayi. I will tell you more about him in the next post.
Nakedi joined AWF in 2007, working in the Limpopo region, where he's from. Nakedi's initial work was focused on studying the great cats to shape conservation strategies to benefit communities he's known all his life. In 2014, Nakedi moved on from the Limpopo region, becoming AWF’s Congo landscape ecologist.
AWF Blogs bring you to the critical landscapes we work in, where conservation benefits both wildlife and people alike. The blogs are written by our staff - men and women who have dedicated their lives to Africa's wildlife, people and wild lands.
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