A game ranger was expected to undergo major surgery last night after a brush with a charging hippo almost cost him his life.
Ranger Bongani Makhanya is understood to have roused a hippo, which had been sleeping in a thicket, while on a morning patrol at the Tala Private Game Reserve yesterday.
Startled and aggressive, the hippo chased Makhanya, who ran for his life.
However, he tripped and fell on thick underbrush, and the hippo fell on him in a flash, biting down on his right hand and arm.
Screaming and lashing out at the hippo with his free left arm warded the animal off, leaving Makhanya in excruciating pain, cradling his crushed hand.
Makhanya, sedated to ease his pain, was scheduled to undergo surgery at Pietermaritzburg’s Mediclinic last night. ER24 spokesperson Russell Meiring said that medics rushed to the scene, where they found a breathless Makhanya surrounded by concerned colleagues.
“The wounds on his arm had already been bandaged by his coworkers. On assessment, paramedics found that the man had sustained severe crush injuries to his right hand,” he said.
Makhanya was given medication to ease the pain and taken to Mediclinic for further treatment.
Mediclinic spokesperson Reshnee Beekrum said that after Makhanya was examined, casualty unit staff had all listened intently as he regaled them with his tale.
“He said he started his day like normal, patrolling the reserve. Apparently he did not see the sleeping hippo behind trees and in seconds it was charging at him. He started to run and the hippo gave chase,” she said.
“The hippo tried to bite his head, and before he knew it he was tripped up by thick grass and fell to the ground. As the animal towered over him, he defended himself and hit back with his right hand when the hippo bit him. He said he started screaming and this scared the hippo, which turned and walked away.”
Alone and injured in the bush, Makhanya picked himself up and walked to the nearest compound to wait for help.
Beekrum said his badly fractured hand would require surgery.
South African wildlife specialist Professor Wouter van der Hoven said that Makhanya may have startled the hippo.
“There is any number of things that could have happened in the bush. Going on his statement, he may have stumbled upon the hippo and startled it. When these animals get a fright, they will often go on the attack and they are particular ly dangerous in that situation. It may also have been a female with a calf nearby, and that could have prompted the response from the animal,” he said.
“The ranger in this case is incredibly lucky to be alive and also lucky to have only sustained injuries to his hand. Normally a hippo would be able to inflict grievous bite wounds to the body of a person, and the fact that he came out of the encounter with only fractures on his hand is remarkable,” Van der Hoven added.
Contacted for comment, an employee of Tala, who would only identify herself as Lauren, said: “I’m in management. We are dealing with lawyers. No comment,” before abruptly ending the call. - The Witness