Jun 222011

A hippo did this!

For the second year running I had an exciting few days on the Zambezi river, canoeing through the beautiful Mana Pools National Park.

For those of you that have been following the blog, you’ll remember that last year a hippo decided to bite the canoe that was ahead of me.

This year it was my turn to be hit!

Before I tell you the story, let me give you some background…..

A bee-eater, one of the many birds that we saw on the Zambezi river

Mana Pools National Park is a World Heritage Site and has excellent populations of elephant and hippopotamus, there are also around four denning sites of the elusive African wild dog.

Our goal was to canoe through the national park for four days. In the mornings we went on game drives and also headed in to the bush with Nick, our guide (who was armed). In the afternoons we travelled around 25km down the Zambezi. For the first two nights we stayed at the Vundu Camp lodge and for the second two nights we camped at two different campsites.

Canoeing is a great way to see birds, crocs, monitor lizards, elephants and of course hippos.

Two bull hippos deciding which one is the most dominant.

Each canoe has a guide who paddles and we sat at the front enjoying the scenery and taking photos. There are times when we followed narrow channels and sometimes these channels would have pods of hippos that had to be negotiated. Hippos are nervous of people and their instinct is to enter the water, dive and hide. Personally, I would be happier if they stayed on the land where we could see them! Hippos also sleep in the water and many hippo accidents have happened when a hippo rises from the bottom underneath an unsuspecting canoe. To prevent this, our guides bang their paddles loudly on the side of the canoe so that the hippos know where we are.

On our third day we where paddling down the main river and we were about 100 metres from the shore. My guide for the day was Danni, a 22 year old who was spending her first year as a guide. It was a holiday weekend and her parents were visiting the camp from Harare. They were driving along the river and witnessed the hippo capsize us.

A close up of the damage by the hippo

As we floated down the river in the last canoe we discussing how tame the Zambezi would be if it wasn’t for the excitement of dodging hippos. Suddenly, the canoe was capsized by a bull hippo that had deliberately swum the 100m from it’s pod! In an instant I was under the water. I had been holding my Nikon D3S with 70-200mm lens on my lap. My instinctive  reaction was to thrust the camera up and hope for the best.

I swam to the surface where I saw Danni calmly hanging on to our overturned canoe and she told me to hang on to it and stay still (because of the crocs) whilst the others paddled back to us. I looked at my D3S and it still worked! A few minutes later I was in another canoe and we rafted ours to the shore. I was obviously shocked but after a cup of tea and changing in to my fleece I was happy to carry on.

The hippo had put a hole in it so we had to call the base and get another sent to us. The rest of my group couldn’t believe what had happened and for the next 2 days everyone was on edge whenever we came to close to hippos.

Nick, the main guide simply could not believe that I had kept my camera dry and shook my hand. I’m sure I couldn’t repeat that feat again!

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