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VICTORIA FALLS, Zimbabwe — A man who survived being swallowed by a hippo shared his story recently in a tale that seems more suited to Hollywood than real life.
Paul Templer shared his story with Chris Broughton of the Guardian. He said when he was 27, he made a living taking people down the Zambezi River near Victoria Falls, a waterfall at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe.
"I'd been working this stretch of river for years, and the grouchy old two-ton bull had carried out the occasional half-hearted attack," Templer said. "I'd learned to avoid him."
Templer had taken clients out with three apprentice guides one day when the bull hippo struck. The hippo knocked one of the apprentices, Evan, out of his boat. As Templer instructed the others to get to safety, he went after Evan — but everything went dark:
I was aware that my legs were surrounded by water, but my top half was almost dry. I seemed to be trapped in something slimy. There was a terrible, sulfurous smell, like rotten eggs, and a tremendous pressure against my chest. My arms were trapped but I managed to free one hand and felt around — my palm passed through the wiry bristles of the hippo's snout. It was only then that I realized I was underwater, trapped up to my waist in his mouth.
Templer wiggled around and fought his way out of the hippo's mouth, but the hippo struck repeatedly, again taking Templer into its mouth and holding him there. Templer thought he was as good as dead.
"The hippo lurched suddenly for the surface, spitting me out as it rose," he said. "Mike was still waiting for me in his kayak and managed to paddle me to safety."
Evan did not survive. His body was found down the river two days later. Templer was badly injured and ended up losing his left arm, although doctors expected him to lose both arms and the bottom of a leg, he said.