Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images
First things first: the two-year-old boy who was attacked by a hippopotamus in Uganda was saved and had a full recovery, police say. But they also say the hippo had the boy in its jaws — with the child’s head and upper body in the animal’s mouth — before a brave bystander rescued the boy.
The attack took place around 3 p.m. on Dec. 4, when the boy was playing at his home near a lake in the Kasese district in western Uganda. The area includes several large national parks and game reserves, along with a series of lakes and safari lodges.
The boy, Iga Paul, was saved after a bystander, identified as Chrispas Bagonza, “stoned the hippo and scared it, causing it to release the victim from its mouth,” Uganda’s national police force said, citing a report from territorial police.
“This is the first such kind of incident,” the police said, where a hippo left nearby Lake Edward and attacked a child. The agency says the boy’s family lives some 800 meters (about half a mile) from the lake.
The hippo fled the scene after dropping the boy — who was quickly rushed to a local medical clinic for injuries to his hand. He was then moved to a hospital for additional treatment.
“He recovered fully and was discharged, after receiving a vaccine for rabies,” the police said.
Ugandan authorities are reminding people in the area to be mindful of wild animals, and to report any incursions into their neighborhoods.
“Instinctually, wild animals see humans as a threat and any interaction can cause them to act strangely or aggressively,” the police said.
The case has attracted wide attention, setting off speculation over whether the hippo might have been trying to swallow or eat the boy — and it’s worth noting that hippos are known to be herbivores, eating massive amounts of grass. But as the Uganda-based Exclusive African Safaris website notes, scientists have confirmed that the animals can also eat meat, particularly if other food is scarce.
Hippos are also known to attack other animals, and humans, if they feel threatened or disturbed. Numerous outlets, from National Geographic to the BBC, cite estimates that say hippos kill 500 people each year, in incidents ranging from the animals charging and capsizing boats to direct attacks.
“Their ability to tear apart most animals — including lions or crocodiles is why the hippo is actually the most dangerous wild animal in the African savannah,” the Exclusive African Safaris website says.