In an African twist on the Biblical legend of Jonah and the whale, a toddler in Uganda has miraculously survived being gulped down and then regurgitated by a hippo.
The 2-year-old boy, who was named as Paul Iga, was playing near his home about 730m 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 him when a local man saw what happened and started frantically pelting the animal with stones.
The startled hippo regurgitated the child and lumbered off back towards the lake.
“This is the first such kind of incident where a hippo strayed out of Lake Edward and attacked a young child,” Ugandan police said in a statement.
Hippo ‘swallowed half of boy’s body’
The hippo had “grabbed ... the boy from the head and swallowed half of his body,” the police said.
“It took the bravery of one Chrispas Bagonza, who was nearby, to save the victim after he stoned the hippo and scared it, causing it to release the victim from its mouth.”
The little boy was rushed to a nearby clinic for medical treatment for injuries he sustained in the attack.
He was then transferred to a hospital in the nearby town of Bwera, which lies close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was given a vaccine for rabies as a precaution and then discharged and released back to his parents.
Although herbivores, hippos can be highly aggressive when they feel threatened. They are known to charge and attack boats and canoes.
Extraordinary 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, with the predators barely escaping with their lives.
Hippos can become particularly aggressive if someone is standing between them and the lake or river that they inhabit.
Hippos kill hundreds a year in Africa
They are estimated to kill at least 500 people a year in Africa, chomping down on their victims with tusks that can be more than a foot long.
The power of their bite is three times greater than that of a lion and 10 times that of a human.
Despite their great bulk, the animals can run for short bursts at around 32km/h.
The probability of a hippo attack being fatal is between 29 per cent and 87 per cent, according to research published in the journal Oxford Medical Case Reports.
That compares with a probability of being killed in a grizzly bear attack of just 5 per cent and the chance of dying in a crocodile attack of 25 per cent.
“The hippopotamus, with his ferocious jaw force, unique mouth size and sharp teeth, can easily bisect a human body in a single bite,” said the study, titled Hippopotamus Bite Morbidity.
Police in western Uganda warned locals to be vigilant after the little boy’s lucky escape.
“Although the hippo was scared back into the lake, all residents near animal sanctuaries and habitats should know that wild animals are very dangerous.
“Instinctively, wild animals see humans as a threat and any interaction can cause them to act strangely or aggressively,” police said.