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About 500 people are killed in hippopotamus attacks each year. On Saturday, Kristen Yaldor was almost one of them.
The 37-year-old American woman was on a river safari tour with her husband, Ryan, when she was suddenly attacked by a hippo that was said to be protecting her calf.
The couple was on a guided canoe safari on Zimbabwe’s Zambezi River. Led by tour operator Wild Horizons, the safari group had three guests and two guides. While canoeing down the river, one of the guides spotted the hippo on the river’s right bank. He reportedly instructed the group to paddle to the left side of the river to avoid the hippo, an animal known for its aggression, especially during calving season.
As the Yaldors paddled to the other side, a hippo appeared under their canoe and flipped it over, Wild Horizons told ABC News. The hippo pulled Kristen Yaldor beneath the water as she was trying to swim to the riverbank. Meanwhile, Ryan Yaldor, who was thrown from the canoe toward the riverbank, swam to the shore in less than 30 seconds. He turned around and called for his wife, and she emerged from the water — with her leg inside the hippo’s mouth.
Kristen Yaldor punched the hippo in the face several times, and it finally released her. She was able to swim to the shore, where her husband helped her out of the water and the head guide reportedly administered first aid. She was airlifted to a clinic in Zimbabwe about 45 minutes later.
From the clinic, she was transferred to a hospital in Johannesburg, an ordeal that took 14 hours after the initial attack. The pressure of the hippo’s clenched teeth caused a ragged fracture in Kristen Yaldor’s right femur. She has already received two surgeries to repair the broken bone and remove dead tissue, and she might possibly need further operations.
The attack happened on Kristen Yaldor’s 37th birthday. The couple told ABC that they were never warned it was calving season for hippos, which might make them more aggressive.
Wild Horizons, which has operated tours in the Victoria Falls region of Zimbabwe for nearly 30 years, told ABC it has strict safety protocols, including a pre-safari safety briefing and instructions on how to properly paddle and steer the canoe. Backup vehicles also follow the canoes down the river, the tour company said, and guides are provided cell phones and handheld radios for emergencies.
The Yaldors say the guides couldn’t reach anyone for help on the radios, and their cell phones did not work from the location on the river bank, causing a delay in medical assistance.
TPG reached out to Wild Horizons for more information but did not receive a response by time of publication.
In its statement to ABC, the tour company said it takes every safety precaution possible on its safaris. “We would like to stress that while our guides are expertly trained and qualified to manage trips such as these, and that every preparation is painstakingly made,” the company said. “Nature is unpredictable.”
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