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Ezemvelo KZN wildlife employee Anthony Swatton had emergency surgery, losing a leg, after being attacked by a hippo in his garden in St Lucia.
Hearing his dog barking, Swatton went out to check his garden when the large bull hippo attacked him on Thursday night.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife vet and a friend of Swatton, Dave Cooper, was one of the first on the scene.
He said Swatton told him the hippo “came out of the blue”.
Cooper said while hippos on the streets of St Lucia are a common sight, it is unusual to find one in an enclosed area, which could have caused the attack.
“The hippo was in the corner of the property, close to the back door. So when Anthony came out, it would have felt cornered.
“Under such circumstances a hippo is extremely dangerous and it would have felt it had nowhere else to go,” he said.
The hippo grabbed Swatton on his lower leg and after flinging him aside, its tusk pierced Swatton’s abdomen.
Cooper said a hippo’s mouth and the incredible weight of its huge head is used in attack, when an enraged hippo will swing its head around.
He added that emergency services arrived at the scene and while they were attending to Swatton the hippo moved away and started grazing peacefully “just 5m away”.
The hippo was not injured, or behaving in an aggressive manner, which led wildlife authorities to believe the attack was defensive as the animal felt trapped.
Cooper said the only unusual action was that the hippo had trampled through the fence.
“They normally respect fences and we have had a couple of reports of hippos breaking fences during the last week or two, but obviously cannot say whether this is all the work of the same hippo,” he said.
Within half an hour of the attack, Cooper said a hippo broke through the fence on his own property, which is nearby to Swatton’s.
“We will be monitoring the situation and will relocate the hippo if necessary,” he said.
Swatton was rushed to hospital where he underwent an emergency operation.
He is in a stable but serious condition in the intensive care unit.
Hippos are often spotted in the tourist town and are attracted to the grass in gardens during winter. -Independent on Sunday