How the hell do you deal with 6,000+ hippo’s?! Any first hand experience, anyone? Advice and comments left on the blog will be much appreciated!


Lake Baringo,Kenya, East Africa. Image  Jason Florio for AFAR Magazine

‘The River Gambia Expedition 2012 – 1000km source-sea African odyssey’

The Journey – 1 river. 2 borders. 3 countries – Guinea-Senegal-The Gambia, West Africa

Paddles in the water: early October 2012

During our journey, we’ll be traveling by canoe and foot – thereby maintaining a low carbon footprint/environmental impact – through the homelands of several West Africa tribes – beginning at the source of the River Gambia, where it trickles out of the Fouta Djallon highlands of Guinea. We’ll then cross over the border into Senegal, to canoe and trek through Niokolo Koba National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and finally into The Republic of the Gambia – following the same course as the early gold and slave traders had done century’s ago – to the 10km wide mouth of the river, where it opens into the Atlantic Ocean after over a 1000km journey.

We’ll collect – through multiple medias: visual/written/audio –  stories documenting the lives and cultures of the indigenous people, who live and work along the course of the River Gambia.

Although we will undoubtedly encounter hippo’s all along our route, both on the river and the land, Niokolo Koba National Park is particularly abundant with hippo’s – an estimated 6,000 of the beasts!! And, we’ll be on the river, in there for around 200km’s – trying to dodge them/not bump into them/paddle over them – thus, avoiding pissing them off!!

Tanzania. Image © Jason Florio

In a recent interview with Matt Smith for The Gambia Blog, the question that is always prevalent in our thoughts was asked:

TGB: And lastly, what do you intend to do about all those hippos?!

Helen: ‘Slap the canoe paddles – as rapidly and as hard as possible – on the surface of the water, whenever we you see a hippo fully submerging!’ paraphrasing Richard Grant, adventurer and author of ‘Crazy River’, who I went to hear his reading of said book in New York a couple of months back. Apparently, the vibrations scare them away. Who knew. I keep (half) joking with Florio “can’t we just attach mechanical paddles to the canoes which, at the flick of a switch, beat the bloody water hard and fast?!! Either that, or have an outboard engine attached for a quick smart getaway!”

We’ve been strongly advised to take an armed guard with us, from someone who lived in the park for over 7 years, through the park – not to shoot the hippo’s, we hasten to add…more to deter them (and the poachers – but that another story). We will heed this advice. But, if anyone out there has another other advice or experience with hippo’s, aside from beating the water really hard with the paddles, please leave your comments below.

They will be extremely appreciated!

Many thanks

The Florios – River Gambia Expedition 2012 Co-leaders

About River Gambia Expedition 2012

Jason Florio, FRGS: award-winning photojournalist. Helen Jones-Florio: expedition & photography producer. 2009: The couple co-led the West Africa expedition 'A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush - a 930km African odyssey' - the first circumnavigation of the small West African country, by foot, with two donkeys and a cart. Resulting in the award-winning series of portraits of Gambian village chiefs (Alkalo's) www.floriophoto.com (under 'Projects') http://930kmafricanodyssey.tumblr.com/ 2012-13: The couple co-led their second West Africa expedition - 'River Gambia Expedition - 1000km source-sea Africa odyssey' over-landing for 400km and canoeing the River Gambia for 720km https://rivergambiaexpedition2012.wordpress.com
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2 Responses to How the hell do you deal with 6,000+ hippo’s?! Any first hand experience, anyone? Advice and comments left on the blog will be much appreciated!

  1. Jeremy Wilzbacher says:

    I don’t know if this is advice, or useful, but I will share some experience in case it is useful. While living in the Gambia I was on canoeing and came across a large group (8-10) of hippos, that was about 100-200 meters away. We stopped paddling and sat watching them for a while. They seemed completely uninterested in us. That is until after about 15 minutes or so, the bull misteriously pops up about 30 meters behind us. He had swam beneath us. My guess is that because we were still he didn’t know exactly where we were. We paddled as hard as we could, and he kept following, surfacing periodically to relocate us or get air. He chased for quite a while. I wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t been as still. We did out paddle him though.

    Also, near where I lived, there is a river crossing where hippos killed 7 people during the 2+ years I was living there. Near Koina, The Gambia. Reportedly mostly due to capsizing the boats and the people would drown. This was back in the 2002-2005 time frame.

    In Niokolo Koba park the hippos seemed more used to people and didn’t seem to bother much. I had other encounters in Gambia where we just kept moving and they didn’t seem to bother. One friend did get a little close and got chased, in a kayak. Still alive though.

    • Hi Jeremy, thank you so much for this. We’ve actually spent quite a bit of time on the river gambia over the years (and we crossed over it at Koina actually – with the donkeys and a cart – on our first expedition there). Fortunately, no incidents with hippos, so far. Any info we can gather is really helpful – even just to help build a picture of what we may encounter/different scenarios etc. Good to know that Niokolo Koba hippos are more used to people (not that we will take advantage of that in any shape or form, mind you!), as we will be paddling all the way through – and camping there too.

      Do you still visit The Gambia?

      Thanks again for getting in touch. Its really appreciated.

      All the best
      Helen & Jason Florio

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