Getting up close to a hippo on a Tanzanian river

2018-03-13 13:30 - Gabi Zietsman
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Gabi Zietsman

I have always had a healthy respect for hippos - one of the most unassuming dangerous animals in Africa - and tended to prefer seeing them from a distance.

In Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, hippos dominate the Great Ruaha River, the rulers of the running waters that even crocodiles fear.

I never thought I would enter those waters in a small tin boat armed with only a camera to wade through the families of glorified water cows. With a group of four other South Africans plus two guides from Azura Retreats, we drove to the banks of Ruaha up to a boat we all thought were going to be much bigger.

It didn't help that the night before the ex-guide in the group regaled us with tales of South African hippos destroying boats and almost severing the arm of a guide he used to know.

A couple of nervous jokes were exchanged, and after everyone took the seats they thought were best positioned for easy escapes, we were off chugging upstream to the pods of hippos.

Our guides were very relaxed and didn't seem too worried about the hippos - I was clinging to the idea that perhaps South African hippos have a bigger chip on their shoulder than Tanzanian ones - and the closer we got, the hippos just slowly started diving and swimming away (we hoped).

WATCH: Hippo makes everyone late for work in Richards Bay

As we struggled against the current, I started noticing that one hippo has decided to have a little dance on our nerves by following the boat from behind. It only looked ever watchful, but we all had the scary stories from before to occupy our minds.

As the sun started setting, it turned the river, and the hippos, into colours of red and orange, and our guides started looking for a spot on the riverbank to set up a sundowner station (still in very close proximity to our flabby friends).

The boat turned and one hippo defiantly decided it has had enough of this tin boat and started what looked like to be standing up on its hind-legs in the water, and just stared at us. Let me tell you, a staring hippo is an odd combination of cute and horror that I think only Africans really understand. 

A lot of nervous laughter surrounds me, and I decide to just start filming so that people can see our demise just in case. In the end, we just chugged away downstream and the hippo went the opposite way, although our tail still continued to follow us all the way to the bank of the river.

WATCH: Crocodile takes wrong turn into hippo territory

Once everyone was on shore, pretty much everyone started checking out the trees and a little cliffside for emergency exits in case we need to make a quick getaway, but no one noticed the tin boat leaving to fetch some forgotten snacks.

And our tailing hippo? He just parked himself off near the bank and continued to glare at the intruders with a stare that would make Al Pacino proud. Luckily, everyone started getting distracted by the astounding sunset and lessons on how to take selfies.

At least I got this cool picture, although I try not to look at the teeth too closely.