Leopard Project Progress and the Hippo Encounter

Leopard Project Progress and the Hippo Encounter

08/23/11
Nakedi Maputla
During the month of August in 2010, after our CEO had visited and left, but before the Corne family visited, Kaizer and I were out looking for the best sites to place cameras when we came across a puddle of water in a dry river bed. It really looked like a puddle and Kaizer and I stood in front of it and discussed the best direction to go to set a camera station. Suddenly there was whirl wind, which came in our direction and went right over the puddle. Suddenly a ginormous, hippo head popped up like a bobble-head and scuttled to the opposite end of what was a puddle a few moments earlier. My thinking at the time was that we were standing there and this hippo was probably looking at us from under the water all along. I told Kaizer that we had to leave instantly as hippos are really dangerous and accounted for more human casualties than any other large mammal in Africa. That is what I wanted to tell him at the time, but what I actually said was:

 

[caption id="attachment_2043" align="aligncenter" width="331" caption="The hippopotamus, whose hide alone can weigh half a ton, is the third-largest living land mammal, after elephants and white rhinos."][/caption] Me: Kaizer, let’s get out of here, hippos kill people. Kaizer: I want to see how big it is. Me: No, let’s go dude. That thing runs faster than us. Let’s go. Kaizer (Picks up a pebble and throws it at the hippo’s head): Nothing will happen; I lived with the big five for two years. Two years, without taking a shower or anything like that. I was like an animal and nothing happened to me. (Picks up another pebble) Me:? No man, don’t do that. Okay if you want to die, you do it alone. I’m leaving. I turned around and started for the car, which was about 200 meters away. I barely took ten strides when I heard Kaizer screaming “HELP”, and the billowing of a clearly upset animal coming from behind me. My first instinct was to turn around and see what was going on. Kaizer was running in my direction with the rifle in his right hand and behind him, was an ill tempered hippo in pursuit. For a moment there, time stood still and everything seemed to be going in slow motion. The hippo was rapidly closing in on Kaizer, who while screaming tried to change direction, but then slipped and hit the deck hard and got up like a ping pong ball. As he changed direction, the hippo saw yours truly, who by the way was still shell shocked and frozen. The hippo stopped for a second because Kaizer was running in the other direction now. I guess it was deciding on whom to take on first. It went after Kaizer and they disappeared in the bushes. The noise that came from there was disturbing. Trees were shaking vigorously. I wanted to run after them and see what was going on, but I couldn’t. I just stood there in awe, like a lightning victim. My mind was working though. I thought Kaizer was being killed and I couldn’t do anything to help him. Disappointment in my lack of courage to help Kaizer took over. “It all happened so fast”, I tried to look for an excuse for my cowardliness. Suddenly I heard Kaizer shout: “Nakedi run to the car, he’s coming for you.” ... To be continued next month.  

About the Author

Nakedi Maputla is African Wildlife Foundation’s Senior Conservation Scientist. He joined AWF in 2007, working in South Africa's Limpopo region, where he comes from. Nakedi's initial work was focused on studying the great African cats to shape conservation strategies to benefit communities that he has known all his life. In 2014, Nakedi moved on from the Limpopo region, becoming AWF’s Landscape Ecologist in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was based in Djolu up to 2016, when he returned to South Africa. Until late 2018, Nakedi served as AWF’s Senior Partnership Manager, Southern Africa, representing the organization in South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia. He attained a Doctor of Philosophy in Zoology/Animal Biology from the University of Pretoria in 2014 and a Postgraduate Diploma in International Wildlife Conservation Practice from the University of Oxford in 2009. In addition to his BSc in Zoology/Botany, Nakedi also holds a Higher Diploma in Education and taught at a high school in Pretoria before joining AWF.