08 November, 2005

Close Encounter with Hippos near Lake Kyoga

1968. I was about eleven years old then. I had, this very deadly, close call, with hippos. I was, then, living in central, Northern Uganda - fifty miles south of Lira.

About seven miles from our home, there was a very large swamp, almost a lake - which was about two miles wide and stretched for miles and miles to lake Kyoga; the swamp, was full of papyrus reeds and water lilies; and hippos. A few kilometers further, on dry land - elephants and buffaloes could be found too. That was then, 1968; I understand most of the animals have gone deeper into the forests, now.

I knew there were hippos in the swamp, but I had never seen a live hippo before, then; I had only seen the ones killed by the locals who liked hippo meat.

The rains had just fallen heavily and for a longer period - causing the swamp to flood a large part of its banks. Everyone was talking at how easy it was to catch fish in the shallow banks, especially at nights. One of my maternal uncles joined in the fishing, at nights; for fun. After pleading with my parents, they allowed me to accompany him on his fifth night of fishing. We left home at around midnight; it was dark.

My uncle was accompanied by three other men, his friends; each, had a flashlight, a cutlass and a basket. The idea was to wade along the shallow banks, and using the flashlights, catch the fish as they swim; by either leading them in to the baskets, or hitting them or chopping them with the cutlasses. The shallow water, at the deepest part, reached just above my knees.

The first, second and third nights, we went - leaving at around the same time - around midnight; all went well; each night, we went to a different location. I was having a great time! And we caught lots of fish, mostly small ones. We would fish for about two hours and go home. But, on the fourth night, it happened!

We had gone further than the previous nights, and after an hour or so of fishing, we heard sounds behind us; everyone turned with flashlights all on: there, not more than twenty meters from us - were hippos! That was my first sight of live hippos! There were a few young ones, but most were adults. Hippos are huge; enormous! Two of the hippos were really huge! We all froze!Most of the hippos waded in to the deeper swamp and disappeared, except the two enormous ones!

My uncle advised that the flashlights should be turned off, as the lights might infuriate the hippos; all the flashlights were promptly turned off! One of his friends said that it was better to keep the flashlights on; but none turned his on. We couldn't see the hippos any more, except for just their outlines. As if all this was not terrifying enough, as we were stiff still, we could hear hippos moving all around! I was terrified! How long we stood that way: with hippos before us, around us, and us frozen - I can not tell; but it seemed, then, an eternity!

After a while, ages for me; the hippos moved; and we, slowly and carefully, with I in the middle of the men - waded out of the water. Nothing was said; only the sounds of our feet moving in the water could be heard; and every now and then, the sounds of hippos too! After what seemed the longest distance for me, we reached dry land! It took a long while, before any one could speak; least of all, I. I have never, ever gone fishing again!

Later, I came to know that hippos can easily kill; and that hippos had killed a number of people around the same area we encountered them! Much later, I learnt that - hippos, crocodiles and buffaloes , in that order, were the most dangerous of all wild animals. Today, in East Africa, the hippopotamus kills more people than any other animal except for the tiny mosquito! Which kills millions!

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/

Search Safari Notes