On The Boats……Spitting Hippos, Cranky Crocodiles, and Fighting Tigers (Part 1)

January 11, 2015

Recollections of working the boats on the Zambezi River would not be complete without mention of the abundant wildlife that populated the entire length of our patrol area.  Most of the time we did our best to keep a respectable distance from our wild companions but just ever so often our paths were destined to cross.

What follows is an account of one or two of these Close Encounters (not including the Green Mamba in our billet mentioned in a previous post).

Spitting Hippos

We were out on one of our routine patrols from Sibankwazi to Deka Drum.  The sun reflecting brightly off of the wind-swept wavelets, spray from the bows stinging our faces.  Tony had the con and we were at full-tilt.  For all the slagging off I have given the Evinrude outboards the pair of them pushed us along at a fair old pace.  Once we got the boat up on the plane and trimmed the load it really was a pleasure to tear up and down the Zambezi.  The loud banging and the shock of the hull hitting the crests was something you got used to and there was always plenty of that.  One needs to experience it to fully understand.

We had been out for some time and nothing really of note to report when all of a sudden and out of nowhere the mother of all hippos surfaced right in the path of our boat.  Tony tried to avoid the creature but we really never had the space and we were going straight for it.  That’s when it started spitting all kinds and colours of snot and other mucous substances all over the bows of our boat and therefore by default, all over us too.  The hippo was clearly coming up for an air resupply, and of course part of that process is to expel the old smelly, snotty contents of wherever it is they store air.  Pretty scary to be honest as we were well into the middle of the river and if we had flipped we would have been in serious shit.  Besides hippos the river is riddled with crocodiles, a very scary proposition indeed.  What are the chances of being in the path of a hippo coming up to vent and fill its tanks in the vast expanses of the Zambezi River?  Probably a million to one but we did it.

Happily we did not hit the hippo and we did not flip the boat so a good day at the office.

The beers were even sweeter at the Deka Drum when we got there later that day.

Here is a typical Spitting Hippo in case you havent seen one.  You can clearly see them blowing snot everywhere (panoramio.com) :


Cranky Crocodiles

In the Rhodesian Army we referred to crocodiles as Flat Dogs.  The Ndebele term is Ngwenya the Shona is Garwe.

Close-up and personal events with crocodiles are more scary than those with hippos.  This is more than likely due to their terrifying appearance.  Interesting enough though hippos kill more people than crocodiles but that means nothing when you are cornered by one.

I want to recall two incidents with crocodiles in this post.

The first one concerns Tony and I and a couple of irritable old Flat Dogs on a Zambezi River sand-bank.  The whole thing went over who owned the sandbank.  The answer is inevitable but the story getting there is worth telling.

This is what a Zambezi River sand-bank looks like:


All along the Zambezi you will find these sandy stretches, either on islands or on the river banks themselves.  We called them fishing camps, not because there was any infrastructure on them, but rather because this is where fishermen would fish from.  We also used to fish from these beach like expanses of sand, and it was from one of these we had a conversation with some Flat Dogs.

We had pulled the boat up onto the sand bank and had got our fishing rods out.  Everything was set for a good days fishing.  No beer.  That was no-no, but we had some snacks and other bits and pieces with us.  After all we were going to cook whatever we caught.

The sun and the tranquility of the setting made it very easy to become immersed in a feeling of euphoria and develop a false sense of security.  Our rifles were always next to us but one tended to forget where one was and that was a real danger in more ways than one.  The war would seem miles away and the gooks just a distant enemy although we could see Zambia, their launching ground just across the river.

It started as a quiet rustle in the vegetation behind us.  I am quite sure we were both dozing to be honest and in this instance our rifles were not that close at hand.  In fact they were not at hand at all.  The obvious place to leave them was on the boat, out of the sand, and that’s where they were.

The rustling grew in intensity.  So much so that it began to get our attention.  We no longer concentrated on our fishing gear, but rather on the possibility of an attack from the rear.

Something or someone was coming at us out of the bushes behind us.  Now we had two choices…….make a run for the boat and get our weapons and make a stand, or make a run for the boat and get the hell out of there.  There would not be time for either…….this (or something similar) is what came at us from the undergrowth at high-speed (Wildlife pictures online):


Now anyone who has not found themselves between a crocodile and its natural habitat, namely water, hasn’t lived fully.  It is a sure cure for constipation and will usually result in passing a number of stools in quick succession.

We were riveted to the spot with this big fellow Flat Dog staring us down.  Jagged teeth peeping evilly out the sides of his mouth, his huge body rising and falling with each breath he took.  He eyed us with those sinister yellow orbs that are so characteristic of Crocodylus niloticus.

And so the water behind us full of Flat Dogs muckers or to stay on solid ground with a Flat Dog in front of us.  That was our choice.  We decided to stay on terra firma and try to slowly get to the boat.  As it was it was not necessary as the wily old Flat Dog was apparently as shit-scared of us as we were of him and he decided to take a detour around us and slink away under the waters of the Zambezi.  What was really creepy was that there was a second Flat Dog ready to support the one we could see………he came screaming out the bush just after his mucker disappeared beneath the water.

A lucky day all round.  No harm done but some hard lessons learnt to be sure.

This post is getting longer than I wanted it to be so going to sign of here and continue in the next one.

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Join us on the forums by using the following link:



© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.






6 Responses to “On The Boats……Spitting Hippos, Cranky Crocodiles, and Fighting Tigers (Part 1)”

  1. Denny said

    Great Read 0nce again Mark! Thanks Denny

  2. troyxx81 said

    Once had a close encounter with a rather large creature myself in Chobe National Park, Botswana. It was 1990 and we were on a school bush trip. Anyway, a couple days into our stay at Serondela camp, I decided to leave the main group that were fishing because i’d foolishly lent 2 of my dad’s best lures to mates, who then proceeded to snag and lose them on river wood stumps. So in a major huff I set off back to camp on my own. Our teacher (who was ex-Rhodesian military IIRC) warned me to “watch out for the lions” in an attempt to make me stay, but I didn’t care and he made no further efforts to change my mind.

    About halfway between our camp and the fishing party, I walked up an embankment, at the top of which was covered in dense foliage apart from the little path itself. It would obscure any view from the flat ground near the river below. As I got over the embankment and rounded the path, what was standing there but a bloody great bull elephant, just happily browsing away! He was probably no more than 10 yds from me. I stood frozen in sheer terror for probably a few seconds as he gave me a very agitated shake of that enormous head. After managing to unfreeze myself, I ran back along the path and towards the embankment, thinking the big fella was sure to follow and turn me into a gooey mess. As I reached the top of the embankment I turned to look at my pursuer for 1 last time, only to notice that he himself was running away, in the opposite direction, crashing though trees and bush! Words cannot describe the relief.

    I expected a reassuring hug or something when I breathlessly got back to the fishing party but our teacher just laughed and said something along the lines of “well you’ve learnt your lesson and you’ll never do that again, will you?” I couldn’t believe it. Later on of course we all had a chuckle at the thought of this huge elephant getting spooked & fleeing in panic from a 10 year old armed only with his fishing rod.

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