I am privileged enough to be one of the trainee rangers at Londolozi for 2015  – during this time I have seen some incredible sightings, but nothing could have prepared me for what lay in store on the morning of 29 January. It is something that I’m sure everyone who was involved in, will never forget.

On drive with Jessica Boon and her tracker Robert, the morning was overcast and crisp, a nice change from the extreme humidity we have been experiencing. We started out from Pioneer Camp at 5:30 am and the plan for the morning was to track a male leopard in the eastern section of the reserve, which had briefly been seen crossing into some thickets a little earlier on. While scanning the area for tracks and listening out for any alarm calls that might give away his position a message came through on the radio from Rich Ferrier. He was at Shingi Dam and had just witnessed a crocodile latch onto an unsuspecting wildebeest cow. Being close by, the plan changed immediately. We headed straight to the dam and arrived roughly five minutes after he had called it in. The usually peaceful dam that we have spent so much time at observing weavers, hippos and elephants had changed drastically.

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Death grip from a crocodile.

We approached the water hole and I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were six hyenas circling in anticipation with their tails up at the waters edge, with a clearly stressed herd of wildebeest just behind alarming at the scene unfolding in the water. There, about knee deep in the water, stood a female wildebeest with a massive crocodile firmly attached to her nose. In the background the sawing sound of the male leopard we had been looking for echoed through the nearby Maxabeni drainage line. The wildebeest, who quite understandably was under considerable stress, was struggling to break the grasp of the fierce and hungry reptile. Jumping and splashing around, she slowly headed deeper into the dark water. Meanwhile the hyenas continued to circle the edges of the dam hoping to grab hold of the struggling mammal. All the while a single female hippo had been watching from across the dam. What happened next was something nobody could have seen coming…

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What appears at first to be an inquisitive hippo…

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Pandemonium!

 The hippo slowly started making her way closer to investigate the scene, and at the time the general thought was that she was going to try and help the wildebeest out of its deadly situation. She did nothing of the sort. She approached to within centimeters and splashed violently at the water. She then, to our astonishment, bit once, twice and then a third time into the wildebeest before plunging the now dead animal into the mercy of the water. For the next hour we sat and watched the unbelievable scene unfold in front of our eyes. The hippo was thrashing the wildebeest backwards and forwards in the water like a rag doll, all the while the crocodile remained firmly grasped to its prize. It seemed to be a tug-of-war game between the massive mammal and the cold calculating reptile. Eventually after about an hour of thrashing, tossing and dunking, the hippo let go of the wildebeest, and the croc made its way to the opposite side of the water hole with its meal. The corpse will more than likely be stashed under the water for the croc to feast on in the coming days.

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The hippo takes hold

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…and another fearsome bite through the wildebeest’s stomach

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and just when you thought the hippo had won…

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…the battle between crocodile, hippo and wildebeest ensues

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with things getting very heated

It is a scene which I will more than likely never see again and will leave us all in bewilderment for years to come. A truly unbelievable morning nobody will ever forget.

Has anyone ever witnessed hippo behaviour like this?

Written and photographed by: Nick Kleer

Filed under Wildlife

About the Author

Nick Kleer

Field Guide

Nick joined the Londolozi team from Thornybush Game Reserve, and immediately began revealing his photographic potential, especially in the passion with which he pursued knowledge. An almost fanatical approach to improving his photography has seen him gain a rapid understanding of all the ...

More stories by Nick

22 Comments

on Wildebeest vs Crocodile vs Hippo: A Tug of War
    Marinda Drake says:

    Amazing! A once in a lifetime sighting. Great pics

    Ian Hall says:

    The one thing is always to expect the unexpected.

    I have seen elephant hunting leopard, but the leopard escaped.

    Jo Lynne Jones says:

    Nick, Fantastic unfolding of the story. While I haven’t seen anything as spectacular as what you witnessed, we have seen an aggressive hippo.
    We were rattling through the bush keeping up with wild dogs who were in pursuit of an impala along the Chobe River. When we reached a clearing we saw that the impala had leapt into the water to escape the dogs – only to be pursued by a hippo. The hippo actually chased the impala onto shore. The dogs then paced not attempting to follow the impala. It all happened in seconds – certainly not an hour. Again, I’d love to be at Londolozi every day for all the wonderful things you see.

    Rich Laburn says:

    Amazing sighting Nick, it reminds me of a similar sighting at Shingi dam from a few years back, this time without a hippo. – http://blog.londolozi.com/2012/12/wildebeest-attacked-by-crocodile-and-survives/

    Jill Grady says:

    Unbelievable! Do you have any idea why the hippo behaved that way Nick….did she have a calf nearby? Just incredible.

    A fantastic sighting, thank you for sharing it.

    Karin Botha says:

    Astonishing!!! Absolutely stunning photos, as well!

    Do you perhaps have an explanation for the hippo’s actions??

    Brian C says:

    A friend who is from So. Africa regards Hippos as one of the most dangerous animals in the bush— right up there with Cape Buffalo, Crocs, etc. I can see why.

    Nick, fantastic story, thank you for sharing!
    I want to see it too!

    Unbelievable story, perfectly captured, Nick!

    Oh my god, what a moment of a lifetime!

    Nooky da Silva says:

    i haven’t witnessed this myself but seen a few videos of hippos and elephants saving animals being held by crocodiles

    Amazing footage. Have seen stunning sightings at Londolozi, but never something like this.

    Richard Sheehan says:

    Super story, Nick. Can’t wait to get back to Londolozi. I’ve seen and photographed a croc take a gazelle, a hippo come over and take the gazelle from the croc, kill the gazelle – essentially tenderizing it for the croc – and then leave it for the croc to eat. Had a little girl in the next vehicle say “Mommy, I thought hippos were vegetarians.” My guess is that hippos are so territorial that any incursion into their territory elicits a potentially deadly response.

    Martin Gowing says:

    I love the video ,with those Hyena’s just standing on the far bank watching whats going on

    Meredith Gottschalk says:

    This is incredible, Nick. Your pictures and the video are fantastic.

    I wish I could have been there!

    Wendy Hawkins says:

    Well that was absolutely fantastic Nick, but what a sad turn around!!! I was hoping that the hippo would deposit the still alive Wildebeest to the bank & chase the hyenas away :( A great sighting for a new Guide. Good luck for future exciting drives.

    Michael O'Sullivan says:

    Very nice capture. Great stuff.

    Hippos are now known to be at least partially omnivorous, and hyper aggressive. So it could have been either a territorial reaction or the hippo attempting to kill/eat the wilderbeest, such that after the long struggle, both croc and hippo were too exhausted to eat and needed to rest. Plausible anyway.

    Michael O'Sullivan says:

    If you check out a lot of hippo “rescue” footage, you’ll notice a lot of tentative mouthing, usually from a slightly younger hippo. When you sorta step back a bit, the majority look like its trying to eat the “rescue” and not really sure how to go about it.

    Amazing sighting, thanks for sharing.

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