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Man miraculously escapes hippo onslaught

By Mary Kamande | August 1st 2012

By Mary Kamande

Many people who have encountered an angry hippo have not lived to share their experience. The animal is so vicious that it often leaves its victims only after finishing the job of annihilation.

However, recently a miracle happened and John Gathuru escaped from the animal’s grip of death.

“It was hell, I stared death in the face but thanks to God, I am alive to tell my story,” says Gathuru, a pastor.

The Standard found Gathuru recuperating at his home in Gichiiki village, in Kilimambogo, Thika East District, last month, after spending more than two months in hospital.

On the fateful day in April, Gathuru and his wife, Magdalene Wambeu, had attended a mid-week fellowship at their church in Makutano, but his wife left him behind chatting with a friend.

Before parting, his friend had offered him his  motorbike to hurry home but since it was still early, the pastor says he declined the offer and opted to walk the short distance home.

Nothing to worry about
“It was about 6:45pm and not yet dark so as far as I was concerned there was nothing to worry about.”

As he walked to his home, which is behind the Kilimambogo Teachers’ Training College, the evening was calm and the normal sounds of nature welcomed the impending night.

Then the grunts of a hippo disrupted this pattern of nature’s song for nightfall.

“I had not expected it. Out of the blues, I saw it charge at me with its gigantic mouth wide open. For a moment I was paralysed with fear. I couldn’t find my feet! Then I remembered I was carrying charcoal in a small paper bag and seeing it charge at me ferociously, I reasoned that I could save myself by hurling the charcoal into its mouth” he says.

And hurl the charcoal into the beast’s mouth he did, and for a moment, the beast believed it had bitten its victim.

“The hippo shut its mouth with force and though it did not clap its teeth on my hand, its snout hit my face, shoulder and ribs, breaking them in the process. The impact hurled me to the ground, but the animal was not yet done with me,” he recalls that dreadful encounter.

Vicious attack
He says the animal bit into his body but miraculously failed to dismember him as he thought it would do or as he had seen happen to other victims of the animal’s vicious attack in the village.

“It is a miracle that I survived. Sensing that the animal had finally left me alone, I dragged myself on my stomach from the footpath to the road, where I believed I could get help sooner.”

He screamed to attract attention. Residents of the college heard his cry for help and came to his rescue but at the same time, the screams attraacted the hippo, which had not yet left the vicinity.

“I think after it heard my screams, the animal returned with more fury and as I waited for my rescuers to come, it hovered over me. I pretended to be dead and it spat the charcoal I had duped it with on my back.

“Meanwhile, a tutor from the college drove towards where I lay and seeing the headlights, the animal stepped aside, perhaps waiting for the vehicle to pass and resume its attack. But in the nick of time, the tutor managed to snatch me from eventual death and took me to hospital,” says a grateful Gathuru.

Unknown to Gathuru and his rescuer, the animal would attack and kill another man at the same spot later that evening.

On the rise
Wild animals attacking villagers is not new; the village has lost seven people since the hippos first attacked them in 2007.

According to Patrick Kahacho, a local, these attacks have been on the rise. He attributes this to a possible increase of the animals’ population and hence an unsustainable habitat.

He thus says the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) should conduct an animal census and relocate excess animals for the sake of the people’s safety.

Although Kahacho says the encroachment into the animals’ habitat by people has led to the increased attacks, other villagers allege that for years, they have coexisted with the animals peacefully until KWS introduced more hippos that are now causing havoc.

But KWS assistant director of the Southern region, which includes Kilimambogo, Ann Kahihia, denies this.

“We have never relocated hippos in the area. If ever there was a translocation of hippos, it was from Ruai to Nairobi National Park,” she told The Standard when contacted.

Responding to allegations that the service has declined to compensate victims of the attacks, Kahihia said the victims or their next of kin are supposed to report to KWS and fill out forms provided by the service to commence the process.

“A person injured by wildlife should first recover before the form is filled,” she says adding that Gathuru is expected to fully recover before the compensation process begins.

Kahihia says unlike what many Kenyans believe, compensation following an animal attack is made by the Government and not KWS.

This is done through the District Wildlife Committee chaired by the District Commissioner. KWS only provides the forms just like the police give out P3 forms but don’t pay claims.

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