In an African version of the biblical legend of Jonah and the whale, a toddler in Uganda miraculously survived being swallowed and then regurgitated by a hippopotamus.
The two-year-old boy, who was called Paul Iga, was playing near his home, about half a mile from the shores of Lake Edward in the west of the country.
The hippo grabbed the child in its huge jaws and was in the process of swallowing it when a local man saw what happened and began frantically pelting the animal with rocks.
The surprised hippo regurgitated the child and returned to the lake.
“This is the first such incident where a hippo strayed from Lake Edward and attacked a young child,” Ugandan police said in a statement.
Hippo “swallowed half of a boy’s body”
The hippopotamus had “grabbed (…) the boy by the head and swallowed half of his body”, police said.
“It took the bravery of a certain Chrispas Bagonza, who happened to be nearby, to save the victim after he stoned the hippopotamus and spooked it, forcing it to free the victim from its mouth.”
The little boy was rushed to a nearby clinic for medical treatment of injuries he sustained in the attack.
He was then transferred to a hospital in the nearby town of Bwera, located near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was vaccinated against rabies as a precaution, then returned to his parents.
Although they are herbivores, hippos can be very aggressive when threatened. They are known to charge and attack boats and canoes.
Stunning footage emerged from Kruger National Park in South Africa in July this year of a hippo attacking three lions as they swam across a river, the predators barely escaping with their lives.
Hippos can become particularly aggressive if someone stands between them and the lake or river they inhabit.
Hippos kill hundreds a year in Africa
They are estimated to kill at least 500 people a year in Africa, nibbling their victims with tusks that can be over a foot long.
The power of their bite is three times that of a lion and 10 times that of a human.
Despite their large mass, the animals can run for short bursts at around 20 mph.
The chance of a hippo attack being fatal is between 29% and 87%, according to a study published in the journal Oxford Medical Case Reports.
This compares to a probability of being killed in a grizzly bear attack of only 5% and a probability of dying in a crocodile attack of 25%.
“The hippopotamus, with its ferocious jaw strength, unique mouth size and sharp teeth, can easily sever a human body with a single bite,” said the study, titled Hippopotamus Bite Morbidity.
Police in Western Uganda have warned residents to be vigilant after the boy’s lucky escape.
“Although the hippo was scared into the lake, all residents near animal sanctuaries and habitats should be aware that wild animals are very dangerous.
“Wild animals instinctively see humans as a threat and any interaction may cause them to act strangely or aggressively,” police said.