Paddlers stopped by hippos

Eight kayakers were forced to abandon their paddle along the Great Fish River at the weekend after a pod of hippos blocked their way.

Emergency workers and the National Sea Rescue Institute launched a rescue operation to retrieve the group late yesterday afternoon.

A search was subsequently launched when it was discovered that two of the group were missing after they went to look for help.

A police helicopter and the air force were placed on standby.

However, by late last night the entire group had been located and had notified rescue workers that they intended to stay there overnight.

The paddlers were stuck about 10km upriver from the mouth with no food or water.

NSRI spokesman Craig Lambinon said the alarm was raised by friends and family yesterday afternoon, after the paddlers had failed to arrive at their destination on Saturday afternoon and then also missed arriving at their final destination yesterday.

Lambinon said earlier yesterday the group of male and female paddlers had been dropped off higher up the river on Friday and were paddling downstream.

A private aircraft volunteered to assist the NSRI in an initial search and the paddlers’ location was found about 10km upstream.

“Communications were established and it was believed they were cut off from continuing downstream by a pod of hippos.

“Two of the paddlers who ventured off to seek help during [Saturday] night were missing at that stage,” Lambinon said.

However, they later made back to the group.

Lambinon said a farmer in the area had assisted in establishing routes to reach the paddlers. it

By 10pm last night, he confirmed that the group had decided to stay at their location until morning.

Last month, Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency (ECPTA) chief executive Vuyani Dayimani confirmed that about six hippos were on the loose in the Great Fish River.

Authorities had shot one of the animals after it was spotted roaming near a school.

The hippos are believed to have moved downsteam as fluctuating water levels damaged fencing.

ECPTA chief marketing officer Nopasika Mxunyelw said there were three or four hippos outside the reserve. “There were an estimated 10 hippos and four have been removed.

“Professional experts have been engaged to remove the animals as and when they are sighted. The fence has been strengthened to prevent further escapes from the reserve,” she said.

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