Although Paul Templer now jokes that his dangerous encounter was “a bad day at the office,” he knows he is lucky to be alive after an attack by a two-ton hippopotamus.
Hippos are some of the most dangerous animals in the world, and are responsible for approximately 3,000 deaths each year in Africa. Growing up to 14 feet long and weighing up to 8,000 pounds, these territorial animals are dangerous both on land and in the water.
On March 9, 1996, Templer—then 27 years old—and his colleagues were leading a river trip down the Zambezi near Victoria Falls between the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe in Southern Africa. Without warning, a huge bull hippo attacked.
"There was a terrible, sulphurous smell, like rotten eggs, and a tremendous pressure against my chest," Paul Templer said. “I was head first, up to my waist, down a hippo’s throat.”
After a struggle, Templer was finally released by the hippo and rescued by one of his coworkers. Although still alive, his body was mangled: The hippo had crushed his left arm and stripped it of its flesh from the elbow down. The animal had also bit through Templer’s lungs, just missing his heart, liver and kidneys.
After eight hours, Templer finally arrived at the hospital. Extensive surgery saved his life, but he lost his left arm above the elbow.
Forced to leave the river and move on to “a dead end desk job,” according to his YouTube video, Templer finally had an important realization.
“I needed to be able to see what had happened to me not as the end of the story, but as another chapter in my story," he said.
Templer went on to become a successful motivational speaker, author and founder of a charitable foundation for disabled and terminally ill children in Michigan and southern Africa.
His story appeared in The Guardian’s “Experience” series on Friday, and has since gained extensive coverage.
In the video below, you can hear Templer’s personal account of the experience.