‘Help me! Help me! I’ve been attacked by a hippo!” Anthony Swatton screamed in terror as blood poured from his body and leg in the garden of his home near Lake St Lucia last Thursday.
His wife Julie, who was chatting on the phone at the time, rushed outside to see her 59-year-old husband sitting on the garden pathway with blood gushing from the gaping wounds inflicted by the tusks of a bull hippo.
Bones were sticking out of the flesh of his left leg and his foot was “hanging on by a sinew”, Julie Swatton said yesterday following the attack which led to the amputation of her husband’s leg below the knee late last Thursday.
Swatton, a mechanical manager with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, is in the intensive care unit of the Bay Hospital in Richards Bay where he was due to have further surgery yesterday.
And the hippo is now in a holding pen in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve after being captured at the scene of the attack three nights later, munching vegetation in the same garden where it bit and gored Swatton last week.
Recalling the attack in a media statement, Julie said that after finding her injured husband sitting on the ground she saw a large hippo standing next to the garage, but it did not |appear to be aggressive or on the point of making a second attack.
Despite his horrific injuries, Swatton urged his wife to run inside and fetch his cellphone so he could call a doctor and an ambulance.
As Julie was busy on the telephone calling for medical assistance, family friend Darryl Flynn arrived on the scene and helped to move Swatton away from the garage – and the hippo – to the veranda.
As Flynn was administering first aid, more colleagues from Ezemvelo arrived and then the ambulance, which took him to hospital.
A spokesman for the family told The Mercury that Swatton was conscious, but heavily |sedated.“We are talking to him and he responds to us by blinking his eyes.”
Yesterday, wildlife managers in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site confirmed that the hippo had been captured by Ezemvelo’s specialist game capture unit and would be sold to a private buyer.
The hippo was captured three days later when it returned to the Swatton’s garden on Sunday night to graze.
Park managers said it appeared that Swatton had come across the hippo inside a walled corner of his garden, when he went outside to see why his dog was barking.
“Evidently surprised and cornered by the commotion, the hippo bit and grabbed Swatton by his lower left leg, flinging him aside, and a tusk pierced his abdomen. It then ceased the attack and moved off into the garden where it continued grazing as neighbours and doctors were called for assistance.”
A spokesman for iSimangaliso noted that the village of |St Lucia was surrounded entirely by the park and its abundant wildlife. “Hippo are historically a regular feature in and around the village, wandering up from the estuary in the evenings in search of good grazing. During winter, when natural grazing is reduced, they tend to enter gardens and populated areas more frequently, generally without incident.”
However, several recent cases of hippo walking over or breaking down garden fences had led to increased vigilance.
“Visitors are reminded that while the prevalence of wildlife in the village is one of its most popular characteristics and greatest attractions, care must always be taken to stay out of the way of any wild animal,” said iSimangaliso Park spokesman Herbert Mthembu.
“Hippo in particular can be aggressive when cornered, threatened or separated from water.”