An anti-rhino-poaching ranger has been horrifically crushed to death by a rampaging hippo when it ambushed his patrol in South Africa.
The armed ranger was with three fellow rangers at the Mkhuze Game Reserve, 180 miles north of Durban, shortly after sunrise where they were protecting a herd of elephants and rhinos.
The group had discovered footprints, after receiving a tip-off that poachers had entered the park after dark – and had split into two groups to encircle the suspected gang.
But experienced patroller Sphamandla Mthembu, 31, surprised a three-ton hippo that was returning to the river and was charged by the beast and opened fire to save himself.
The gunfire alerted his colleagues, who rushed to where the ranger was gripped in the jaws of the hippo.
His coworkers didn’t stop firing their rifles until the hippo was dead – then moved forward to help their injured colleague who was still alive and able to tell them what had happened.
But the ranger died from the crush and bite wounds while waiting for medical assistance.
Father-of-two Mthembu had been a park ranger for eight years.
CEO of Ezemvelo Kwazulu-Natal Wildlife Park, Mr Shie Mkhize said: ‘My heart broke when I heard of the incident and finding the words to speak to his family was so difficult.
‘It was made even more difficult when I was told Mr Mthembu had recently lost a young child and his family were trying to come to term with that when this unfortunate incident happened.
‘Our thoughts are also with his fellow rangers who need space to be able to process what they witnessed.’
Hippos have the biggest teeth of any land mammal – their front teeth are over a foot long and their canines grow up to 18 inches long.
Local media reported the ranger had suffered nine wounds to his body, as local police opened an inquest.
A game reserve worker told a local journalist: ‘It was all very sudden and the hippo came from nowhere and charged and trampled and bit the ranger who had opened fire on it.
‘The others were firing as well but by the time it was dead so was the ranger. They said there was so much blood and they did not know how he was still alive when they reached him.’
Hippos kill more humans than any other animal in Africa, claiming at least 3,000 victims a year – they can grow up to 12 ft long and can run at 20mph.
They will even attack large boats on the river and sink or capsize them and become most agitated if humans get between them and their river or when they have young calves.
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