Written by Mike Unwin
The distressed hippo – one of Africa’s most dangerous animals – lunged out of the water ‘like a torpedo’ at anybody who approached too close.
In March 2011, Matt McGinn, manager of Mbuluzi Game Reserve, faced an unusual dilemma. Local fisherman Nkhosinathi Nkwanyane had discovered a hippo trapped inside a natural rock pot-hole in the bed of the Mbuluzi River. The weakened animal, which had been there for a while, was unable to climb out over the steep sides. McGinn and his game guards sprang to the rescue, but finding a solution proved tricky. Their first strategy was to divert the river’s flow into the pot-hole in order to float the hippo out, but the animal could not get enough of a grip on the slippery rim to haul itself free. Next, Mick Reilly and George Mbatha arrived from Hlane with a team of rangers and helpers. They decided to fill the pot-hole with tyres, giving the animal a platform on which to climb to safety. Despite using more than 30 tyres, however, this strategy also failed. The work was extremely hazardous, according to McGinn, as the distressed hippo – one of Africa’s most dangerous animals – lunged out of the water ‘like a torpedo’ at anybody who approached too close. As the beast became increasingly exhausted, however, the rangers managed to slip a noose around its neck. A great cheer went up as they hauled the animal out and towards the safety of the bank. After taking ten minutes to recover, it then wandered back to the safety of the river. The whole operation lasted over ten hours. Had the hippo not been spotted and rescued, it would have starved to death. Nkwanyane worked with the rescuers throughout and was strongly commended by Big Game Parks for his actions.