Hippos may look like cuddly water cows, but don't let their lumbering demeanour fool you: these herbivores are dangerous. In fact, hippos kill hundreds of people in Africa every year and feature near the top of just about every countdown listicle that showcases the continent's most fearsome creatures. But that didn't deter a group of tourists in South Africa's iSimangaliso Wetland Park from sidling up to one of the mega mammals recently in the hopes of snapping a selfie.

"Tourists were warned to stay back by several staff members but ignored requests, so they could get close up pictures with the hippo," tour guide and boat captain Deiric Walsh explained to StoryTrender. "This hippo could have charged at any time."

Fortunately for the tourists, this hippo tolerated the photoshoot and moved off without unsheathing its 50-centimetre incisors. Other close encounters in the area have had far more grisly conclusions. "Recently, a man was attacked in his garden at 1am in the morning when he almost walked into a hippo in the dark," Walsh recalls. "He survived but lost a leg and half of his stomach."

Walsh runs boat tours from St Lucia – a tourist town embedded in the south of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Hippo encounters are not uncommon here as the town is cradled by a stretch of estuarine water directly connected to the 350 square-kilometre Lake St Lucia system. The entire area is home to at least 800 hippos and most local residents have witnessed grazing sea cows wandering the town's streets on occasion. 

"Humans underestimate them [hippos] because they are fat like a cow, so we expect them to be slow, but when we realise they are dangerous it is usually too late," Walsh explains. 

This underestimation is perhaps even greater in the case of foreign tourists who have never before witnessed a hippo in the wild. Just last year, a Taiwanese tourist was mauled to death in Kenya when a hippo turned on him while he was taking photos of the animal at a wildlife resort on Lake Naivasha. He was one of six people killed by hippos in that area last year alone.

Hippos are notoriously territorial and will readily attack to defend their homestead. Encounters usually occur at night when the animals emerge from their watery abodes to graze, but they will sometimes venture onto riverbanks during daylight if the weather is moderate enough.

Luckily this hippo was too interested in a snack to bother with the meddlesome tourists.

Hippo Biting Impala Related Content 2016 07 27