A hippopotamus attacked a woman while she and her husband were on a wildlife tour in Africa, according to tour operator Wild Horizons.
On Saturday, a married couple was on a canoe safari consisting of three guests and two guides on the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe. One of the guides saw hippos on the right side of the river, and instructed guests to paddle to the left, away from them, Wild Horizons said in a statement.
As they paddled, a hippo emerged underneath the canoe the woman was in, capsizing it, the tour operator said. The hippo then attacked her and pulled her underwater as she attempted to swim to shore.
The head escort pulled her onto the riverbank and administered first aid, according to Wild Horizons. Then the woman was flown to a local hospital.
The Tampa Bay Times identified the couple as Odessa, Florida, residents Kristen and Ryan Yaldor. Ryan Yaldor’s mother, Martine Yaldor.
When the hippo hit the canoe, Ryan Yaldor was ejected toward the island, but Kristen Yaldor was thrown toward the hippo, which pulled her under quickly after she hit the water, the source said.
It took Ryan Yaldor less than 30 seconds to swim to shore from the middle of the river, and when he turned around and screamed for his wife, she popped out of the water, her right leg still in the hippo’s mouth, the source said.
Kristen Yaldor then punched the hippo several times in the face, and it eventually released her, the source said. She then swam towards shore, and Ryan Yaldor helped her out of the water and into the nearest canoe, the source said, adding that a helicopter arrived about 45 minutes later.
South Africa, a journey that took 14 hours from the time of the attack saw her being taken to a clinic in Zimbabwe and then transferred to a hospital in Johannesburg, the source said. The hippo’s teeth caused a ragged fracture to Kristen Yaldor’s right femur, for which she has received two surgeries one to repair the break and a second to remove the dead tissue, the source said. She may need additional surgery as well.
The couple was not made aware of the elevated danger surrounding hippos because of calving season, the source said, adding that they had “no idea” a baby hippo was present, and that the mother hippo was protecting her calf.
Wild Horizons detailed its extensive safety procedure in a statement. On each river trip, a backup vehicle on land follows the canoe, and each guide is equipped with a cell phone and hand-held radio, according to Wild Horizons.
The source close to the Yaldor family said the guides were delayed in getting help because they were not able to reach anyone on their radios and their cell phones didn’t work on the island.
Before embarking on the tour, guests are given a safety briefing and are required to practice paddling, in an effort to ensure they “are familiar with the mechanics of rowing down a river, and are competent to do so,” Wild Horizons said.
“We would like to stress that while our guides are expertly trained and qualified to manage trips such as these, and that every preparation is painstakingly made, nature is unpredictable,” Wild Horizons said in the statement.
Hippos are known for their aggressive behavior and kill about 500 people per year in Africa.
Wild Horizons has been operating in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and along the Zambezi River for nearly three decades, it said.