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Hit by a Hippo

Behind the Scenes of Africa's Deadliest: Lethal Weapons

Photo: A hippo shows its teeth

Photo: A hippo shows its teeth (View larger version)

Photo by: Aquavision TV Productions / Francois Botha

By Nathan Pilcher, Cameraman

Published

Filming hippos turned out to be more interesting than I anticipated. I decided we needed to film the hippos in the river from as low as possible to show their point of view, so we ended up building a small steel cage that we sank into the river at the bank’s edge and put the camera just above the water level. This was as much for the crocodiles as the hippos, as the Luangwa river is known for having the densest population of both in Africa. On more than one occasion we walked into hippos when approaching the river to film, which despite having worked around them for many years always demonstrated their amazing speed and agility for such a large mammal and reminded you just how dangerous they can be. For the next month every morning at first light I would crawl into the cage and sit chest deep in slow flowing hippo-dung saturated river and wait for their return from the nights feeding. This also required a lot more patience than expected, since hippos sleeping was often the main event, but now and then my heart would wake up with a start as a crocs head appeared a few feet away from mine or two hippos would fight and head in my direction.

Filming hippos on land proved just as interesting, especially when one night a pride of eighteen lions decided to hunt a hippo. The massive beast took flight and in confusion ran straight into the side of our vehicle throwing us to the ground and moving the car sideways a few feet. The lions then pursued it with one or two hanging on its back until it stopped and put its rear to the ground protecting the softer vulnerable parts of his body. Some of the lions chewed on his back trying to get through the thick skin, and then he got up and ran for a hundred feet before stopping again. They repeated this for the next half hour. Again I ended up being thrown with the camera into the front of the vehicle and onto my assistant Anton’s lap when we drove into a warthog hole whilst trying to keep up with the chase. One lion got too close and he turned around and grabbed the lioness’ head in his mouth and threw her around. This had to be the luckiest lion alive since a hippos gigantic incisors can easily rip a canoe in half, but somehow her head went between the incisors and instead her head was injured by the pressure of the hippos bite and her throat was punctured by the two short front facing teeth, but she survived. The hippo too escaped the affair, brutally scarred, but still in possession of his life.

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