A courageous ranger, Sphamandla Mthembu, 31, lost his life when he was attacked and crushed by a hippo during a dawn patrol along a riverbank in the Mkhuze Game Reserve in South Africa. Mthembu and three colleagues were tracking footprints following a tip-off about poachers entering the park after dark.
The rangers had split into two groups to encircle the potential threat when the fatal hippo ambush occurred. The incident took place at the nature reserve located 180 miles north of Durban, where the rangers were tasked with protecting a herd of elephants and rhinos.
But, armed ranger Mthembu accidentally startled a three-ton hippo while patrolling a riverbank, prompting the aggressive animal to charge at him. In an attempt to defend himself, the ranger opened fire on the hippo, according to the Daily Mail.
The gunfire alerted his colleagues, who rushed to the scene only to find the ranger trapped in the jaws of the hippo. They also began firing at the animal. The ranger sustained nine severe wounds during the tragic attack while the group was on a mission to track down poachers.
The colleagues of the ranger attacked by the hippo did not cease firing their rifles until the animal was killed. Despite their efforts and while awaiting urgent medical assistance, the ranger succumbed to the severe crush and bite wounds inflicted by the hippo.
The father-of-two had served as a park ranger for eight years. Shie Mkhize, the CEO of Ezemvelo Kwazulu-Natal Wildlife, which oversees conservation and patrols at the Mkhuze reserve, expressed deep sorrow, stating that finding words to speak to the ranger’s family was a challenging and heartbreaking task.
The tragic incident involving the ranger was further compounded by the recent loss of his young child. Mkhize extended condolences not only to Mthembu’s family but also to his fellow rangers, acknowledging the emotional toll of witnessing the incident.
The South African Police have initiated an inquest into the attack, which occurred at 5:30 am on a Sunday as the rangers followed poachers’ footprints along the River Mkhuze.
According to a game reserve worker, the hippo attack on the ranger was sudden, with the animal charging and trampling him after he opened fire. Despite the efforts of the ranger’s colleagues, who also fired at the hippo until it was dead, the ranger succumbed to severe injuries.
The worker noted the significant amount of blood at the scene, expressing surprise that the ranger was still alive when they reached him.
The Mkhuze Game Reserve, spanning 40,000 hectares and housing the African Big Five animals, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hippos possess the largest teeth among land mammals, with front teeth exceeding a foot in length and canines measuring up to 18 inches. They are responsible for more human fatalities in Africa than any other animal, causing around 3,000 deaths annually, surpassing elephants, crocodiles, and lions in lethality.
These massive herbivores, reaching lengths of up to 12 feet and heights over 5 feet, can run at speeds of up to 20 mph, making them capable of easily catching humans. Renowned for their bad temper, hippos are considered the most ill-tempered animals on the African continent. They are known to attack large boats and become highly agitated if humans come between them and their young calves.