One child died, and 23 other people were missing after a hippopotamus collided with a boat carrying villagers, causing it to capsize.
The unfortunate incident unfolded on Monday, May 15, in the isolated Nsanje District in southern Malawi, near the Mozambique boundary. The vessel was engaged in a customary journey, ferrying 37 local inhabitants to their farmlands for routine maintenance of their crops.
Following the incident, an immediate rescue operation was launched by local law enforcement in collaboration with staff from the World Food Program who were in the vicinity. According to Dominic Mwandira, the Nsanje District Police Commissioner, this rapid response led to the successful rescue of 13 individuals from the dangerous waters.
The locals in the region are no strangers to interactions with hippos, often leading to adverse events. Their repeated pleas for the relocation of these animals underline their growing concerns and their desperation to prevent such calamities in the future.
Sharing the distressing news of the discovery of a drowned one-year-old—the sole child occupant of the boat—Nsanje police spokesperson, Agnes Zalakoma, reaffirmed that the search operation continues, aiming to locate the individuals who are still missing and presumed to have drowned in the accident.
Residents of the area have been advocating for the construction of a bridge across the Shire River as a safer alternative to boat travel. Regrettably, these requests have thus far been unheeded, leaving the potential for such perilous encounters to continue.
Navigating the Shire River, a water body filled with hippos and crocodiles, is dangerous for villagers who rely on often overcrowded and poorly maintained boats and canoes. Even though incidents of capsizing are not uncommon, occurrences initiated by hippos remain relatively rare in this region of Malawi.
Hippos, which are the second-largest terrestrial animals following elephants, are known for their fierce territorial behavior. They are particularly defensive when it comes to their young, often posing threats to anything perceived as a danger. Despite their considerable weight—males can reach up to 9,000 pounds and females over 3,500 pounds—hippos display remarkable agility both on land and in water. These colossal animals are estimated to be responsible for approximately 500 human fatalities each year across Africa.