While trying to rescue another guide, Paul Templer, was attacked three times by a hippo which onlookers described as watching a dog trying to destroy a toy, the way that the hippo thrashed with Templer in his mouth.
You never know when you will have a near-death experience when you first wake up in the morning, even if you work on the Zimbabwe River. In 1996, Paul Templer was 28 and a tour guide in Southern Africa. Templer told CNN how he was living his dream life, working his dream job when the worst day of his life happened, and he ended up inside a hippo’s mouth.
As Templer recalled the events from nearly 30 years ago, he explained how he wasn’t even supposed to go to work that day, but a buddy of his had called in sick with malaria, so Templer covered his shift of guiding six clients down the river. Of course, he covered the shift, canoeing down the river was his favorite thing to do. Never did it cross his mind that he would end up inside a hippo’s mouth before the day was done.
The first half of the expedition started out like any other journey down the river. Even when Templer spotted the herd of hippos in the water ahead, he wasn’t worried. An expert guide, Templer carefully guided his clients in their canoes to a safe distance away from the hippos and their deadly mouths, and he believed that they had escaped the danger.
It wasn’t until he noticed that the last canoe, led by a fellow tour guide named Evans, had fallen off course that the trouble began. Suddenly, there was a loud thud, and the canoe that Evans and some of the clients were in was catapulted into the air. The clients somehow landed safely in the canoe and out of danger, but Evans fell into the river.
Determined to save his friend and co-worker, Templer turned his canoe around and sped toward Evans before he ended up in a hippo’s mouth. But before he could reach his buddy, a tsunami of a wave hurdled over Templer, indicating that one of the hippos was after him. Templer slapped the water with his paddle to scare off the beast but to no avail—just as Templer was about to reach Evans, everything went dark.
Disoriented at first, Templer soon realized that he had ended up inside the hippo’s mouth. In fact, he was halfway down his throat. He could feel his legs in the water of the river, but from his torso up, everything was damp and dark and quiet.
There was no time for Templer to process what had happened before the hippo had spit him out of his mouth and back into the river. Gulping in fresh air, Templer once again swam to save Evans, and once again was evaded in his efforts. In seconds the hippo had grabbed hold of Templer again, only this time, it got his legs.
Once again stuck halfway in a hippo’s mouth, Templer tried to grab his gun, but the hippo was thrashing too violently for the tour guide to grab hold of it. Then, once again, the hippo spat him out.
Desperately swimming to the surface, Templer searched for Evans but couldn’t see the other guide anywhere in his line of sight. As Templer was distracted looking for his friend, the angry hippo struck once more, and this time, he got a hit. The hippo’s mouth chomped down on Templer, sideways this time, piercing its teeth through his lungs as Templer’s arms dangled on one side and his legs poked out on the other side.
One of the clients with Templer later said it was like watching a dog trying to destroy a toy, the way that the hippo thrashed with Templer in his mouth. The hippo shook Templer for a solid three and a half minutes until Templer’s apprentice guide, Mack, managed to swing a canoe around and pull him to the safety of a nearby rock.
Alive but hurt badly, the hippo’s mouth had done some serious damage to Templer. His lungs were punctured, and one of his arms was beaten into a bloody pulp. But that wasn’t the only bad news—Mack explained to Templer that Evans didn’t make it.
Templer ended up surviving to tell the tale of what it was like to be in a hippo’s mouth not just once, but three times. Templer lost his left arm, but his right arm and both of his legs were saved. Now, 24 years after the fact, Templer is alive and warns tourists traveling in hippo country to always be safe and follow the rules.