Florida woman recalls terrifying hippo attack during African safari

Kristen Yaldor fought off hippo that attacked couple's canoe

TAMPA, Fla. – A Florida woman said there was a moment she thought she was going to die when she was attacked by a hippopotamus while canoeing during an African safari.

Kristen Yaldor and her husband were enjoying a canoe safari on Zimbabwe's Zambezi River on Dec. 1, when one of the guides saw hippos on the right side of the river and instructed guests to paddle to the left, away from them, tour operator Wild Horizons said in a statement to ABC News after the attack.

"He did tell us, initially, with his binoculars he did see hippos, a group of hippos, he said, up on the right-hand side," Yaldor told ABC's "Good Morning America."

Yaldor and her husband said they were riding in a two-person canoe when the attack happened. As they paddled, a hippo emerged from underneath and capsized the canoe.

"Immediately, I was grabbed and pulled underneath the water," she said.

Her husband managed to swim back to shore. When he turned around, he saw her right leg still in the hippo's mouth.

"Immediately, I was grabbed and pulled underneath the water," Kristen Yaldor recalls of the hippo attack.
"Immediately, I was grabbed and pulled underneath the water," Kristen Yaldor recalls of the hippo attack.

Yaldor was thrashed around under the water for about 45 seconds and was running out of air. 

"And so I grabbed its mouth between my leg and tried to pry it open," she said.

Yaldor said she fought the hippo as much as she could, punching the animal several times in the face.

"Was there a moment where you thought, 'I'm not going to make it?'" ABC News' Paula Farris asked Yaldor.

"Only after I came back up and thought that if it grabbed me again then I don't think I could survive that again," Yaldor said.

Yaldor swam toward the shore, where her husband and the two guides helped her out of the water.

She was first taken to a small clinic in Zimbabwe and then transferred to a hospital in Johannesburg, a journey that took 14 hours from the time of the attack, according to the couple.

The hippo's teeth caused a ragged fracture to her right femur, for which she has had two surgeries -- one to repair the break and a second to remove the dead tissue, she said.

She may need additional surgeries, as well.

"If it was an inch or so in another direction, she probably would have bled out in the canoe and not made it any past that," Ryan Yaldor said.

Now that the couple are back home in Tampa, they're just thankful to be alive.

Before embarking on the tour, guests are given a safety briefing and are required to practice paddling, in an effort to ensure they "are familiar with the mechanics of rowing down a river and are competent to do so," Wild Horizons said in its statement.

"We would like to stress that while our guides are expertly trained and qualified to manage trips such as these, and that every preparation is painstakingly made, nature is unpredictable," the company added.