Two tourists in South Africa just barely escaped with their lives after a supposedly domesticated hippo brutally attacked them!!
Natasha Vrany recounted the terrifying moment in a November 30 review on Tripadvisor. According to the 39-year-old, she and her cousin Belinda Newman, 62, visited Jessica’s Place, the home of the world-famous hippos Jessica and Richie in Hoedspruit, South Africa (neither pictured above).
Tonie and Shirley Joubert, the owners of the popular tourist spot, consider the wild animals — whom they believe they’ve tamed — their “children.” According to their website, they discovered Jessica in 2000 after she was born following a large flood in the area (her umbilical cord was still attached). They raised her into the 3,000 lb adult she is today, and they welcomed Richie in 2012 after he washed to shore following similar weather conditions. They now allow tourists to come and take pictures with the animals.
Natasha says she and Belinda were eager to do just that during their recent travel, but the situation turned catastrophic when a hippo attacked, leaving Belinda horribly injured — reportedly holding her intestines inside her body! Natasha’s response to the attack? Leaving a scathing one-star review. She wrote:
“Myself and my cousin were brutally attacked by Richie the hippo on the 14th November at Jessicas place.”
Yeah, most one-star reviews are more about rude employees or unreasonable prices. Once you get into disemboweling territory, you can probably skip over Tripadvisor altogether.
Obviously the tourist was asked about the attack later. Speaking to Pretoria News, Natasha explained that they were sitting on the Jouberts’ lawn with Tonie when Richie (the 9-year-old hippo also known as Seun) attacked! Natasha recalled:
“Tonie had no weapon or rifle with him. We felt quite safe and confident that there would be no issues.”
She quickly wished for more safety precautions when she became the first victim of Richie’s attack!
“All of a sudden, Richie came dashing out of the river. My back was facing the river, but I heard the stamping on the ground. As I got on my feet, Richie pushed me down to the ground and proceeded to bite both my legs and throw me around like a rag doll. He had both legs in his mouth, biting harder with every second.”
OMG! The poor woman tried to fight off the enormous animal by scraping his eyes with her nails, but it only made him bite down harder. He then began to drag her toward the water, she shared:
“Richie started carrying me down towards the river as I screamed to Tonie to please not let him take me to the water. Tonie was slapping Richie and saying, ‘Seun moenie’ [Seun, don’t].”
At this point, her older cousin jumped on the hippo’s back, which caused the animal to finally release his grasp. Natasha continued:
“He opened his mouth softly, and I was able to fall out of his mouth. He then turned on Belinda, pushing her to the ground, and started ripping her stomach to pieces.”
Oh, no! After she ran into the house to ask Shirley to grab a rifle, Natasha says she passed out. Meanwhile, Belinda was nearly eaten to bits!
“When I woke up, Belinda was standing over me holding her intestines in her hand to try and get them to stay inside.”
Terrifying!! Tonie claimed that he was the one to save the tourists lives by throwing a rock at the hippo’s head, telling the outlet:
“I managed to hit him above the eye, where there is soft bone, and he dropped her. I saved her life while putting my own life at risk.”
“I managed”?? That sounds sketchy AF!! We’d hope a tourist destination would be prepared for the worst, no matter how tame they think their animals are. Instead, this sounds like he was relying on dumb luck to get the hippo to retreat!
Natasha claims though she gave her phone to Tonie to call an ambulance, he refused to, supposedly telling the women:
“It was a scratch and we will be fine.”
Tonie allegedly refused to give the phone back unless the injured victims promised to say the attack happened off the premises and that it was not Jessica or Richie who ambushed them. He was arguing that it was an unknown hippo that attacked. Natasha claimed that while paramedics were on the scene, Tonie brought Jessica inside the home, recalling:
“While the paramedics were attending to us, Tonie actually brought Jessica the hippo through the house to put her to bed on the veranda. I was so shocked, and so were the paramedics.”
Tonie is continuing to argue that he knows his hippos were not responsible because when he ran for help, he saw Jessica asleep on the veranda and Richie hanging out by his blanket. If that’s true, it’s unclear what hippo Natasha and the paramedics would have seen being brought inside to sit on the same veranda. However, if that’s true it means Tonie was showing them a wild hippo he didn’t know without realizing it — just as dangerous if not moreso.
Though if we’re being honest, Tonie clearly isn’t the most reliable witness in all this as an admission of the attack puts his “children” at risk. Tonie has also denied refusing to hand back the cell phone to stop Natasha from calling for help.
Both women were taken to the hospital and have survived, though they are obviously haunted by the ordeal. Natasha reflected:
“It was the most traumatic experience of my entire life, and I still have nightmares. My pain is excruciating, and I’m scared for my life.”
In her original Tripadvisor review, she added that the Jouberts have yet to take any accountability for the life-threatening moment, writing:
“We were rushed to Zaneen hospital having several operations and infections setting in. No comment and lies from shirley Joubert and Tony Joubert owners of Jessica’s Place. I urge anyone not to put yourself or your family at risk. This hippos are not tame and cant attack at any time. I’m disgusted that they are denying everything and i want all to know what they should expect visiting Jessicas place.”
Innerestingly, in 2014, Stephen Jansen van Rensburg, a person who worked with the hippos, was left with his left thumb “hanging on skin” after Jessica bit him. But speaking to News24 at the time, he insisted:
“My thumb is definitely not hanging. A small piece of skin is the only thing that is missing, it is not that serious at all. It looked way more serious.”
Confident in the creature’s calm nature, Stephen claimed at the time:
“There is no way that she will hurt anybody intentionally, maybe by accident, I mean look at my hand but never intentionally. Wish these people will stop sensationalizing it.”
Even if they’re only hurting people “by accident,” they’re 1.5 ton wild animals. They can’t be treated like house pets.
Jessica’s Place has received many more one-star reviews, but they pertain to poor road conditions, weird hours, and “rude” owners. Most have had positive experiences, and the tourist destination was even featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2007 (among many other notable publications). To see an inside look at Jessica’s Place, before all the controversy, watch (below):
We’ll be thinking of Natasha and Belinda as they recover physically and mentally from this near-death trip! What a freaky incident!! Stay safe out there, y’all!