Stories from Africa

  • kob grazing
    Ugandan kob graze in the Queen Elizabeth National Park.

    Chased by a Hippo: Dangers of Africa Get Up Close and Personal

    As our game vehicle passed through the savannah of the Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) in Uganda, I sat in amazement of the wildlife abundance.

    The large herds of Ugandan Kob, topi and other antelope were staggering. The number isn't as large as that in the Serengeti of Tanzania, but it's still very impressive.

    A large topi bull stood on a termite mound to announce his presence and territorial status by making himself conspicuous. The bulls prefer standing on the mounds because it allows them to see their domain above the tall grass.

    There's something special about driving across the savannah with its endless grass punctuated by an occasional acacia tree. I've always liked it. Maybe because it reminds me of my home in Nebraska.

    A friend once said to me, "You like being where you can see forever."It's true; my spirit is at ease in these places.

    The savannah grass was brown. It was the end of the dry season, and the various antelope grazed on whatever green sprouts they could find. All life here revolves around the cycle of rain. And many animal activities are timed to take advantage of the food abundance as a result of the rain.

    It's a cycle that has worked for thousands of years, and it's incredible to witness.

    Jack Bestbier was my guide, driver and travel companion. He was also the manager of @ the River Lodge located just outside the park where I was staying.

    "Let's go bush camping,"Bestbier had suggested. Bush camping is staying in the heart of the park with the animals as companions. "It's great fun."

    I jumped at the opportunity. Bestbier loaded our safari vehicle with the necessary camping gear and we were ready for adventure.

    The road through the park is a couple of dirt tracks that slice through the grass. Bestbier knew where to go and how to find animals.

    "Off to your right is a couple of hyena pups. I've watched them grow over the last few months,"Bestbier explained. The mother was gone and had left the pups at the den, waiting for her to return with food.

    young hyena
    A young hyena waits for its parents to bring food back to the den.

    "Let's go set up camp,"Bestbier said.

    We drove to one of the park campsites and chose a location to set up our tent. The campsite was located among the trees along the bank of the Ishasha River. Across the river was the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

    "This is a great place to see hippos in the daytime and one of the few places where I have seen them come out of the water,"Bestbiersaid.

    After we set up camp, Bestbier had to leave. "I need to go talk to the park rangers about some issues. I'll be right back," he told me.

    This left me free to take photos and videos of the area.

    After setting up my video camera and tripod, I walked down to the river to see what I might find. Almost completely submerged in the water was a pod of hippos that seemed to care less about my presence. Hippos feel safest when in the water.

    I positioned my camera and started capturing the beautiful scene of hippos. Occasionally, they offered a series of grunts.

    pod of hippos in water
    A pod of hippos stare from the Ishasha River.

    On the other side of the river, which was about 40 yards wide, a hippo walked onto a sand bar and followed the edge of the water.

    I was thinking the scene was very cool. I was going to film this and get into the frame so I could talk about the hippo.

    As I walked to get into the recording frame for the video, the hippo saw me. It quickly cocked its head in my direction, lifted it higher, twitched its tail and started running full speed toward me.

    My heart raced as my legs moved even faster. I grabbed my camera and bolted as fast as I could to higher ground. A flashing thought went through my mind: Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray and Dean Jacobs was going to be killed by a hippo.

    I was well aware that hippos kill more people than any other mammal in Africa. They are aggressive, mean and very territorial and something I was experiencing firsthand.

    hippo with mouth wide open
    A young hippo opens its mouth as a display of aggression.

    Thankfully, the hippo gave up the chase when it ran into deeper water. It seemed to be satisfied with the look of terror I must have had on my face.

    When Bestbier returned from meeting with the park rangers and found me at the campsite, he said, "You look a little flushed."Then he asked, "What happened?"

    "I went down to the river to film the hippos and got chased,"I replied.

    "Oh man, I wish I could have seen that,"Bestbierresponded, laughing."Let me know when you go down there again."

    Down below, right in the location where I had been standing on the beach, a hippo walked out of the thick bush and across the place where I had been filming.

    I answered, "I think once was enough."

    Fremont Tribune

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