The owners insist it was a different hippo.
A woman who claims she was almost killed by a hippo so upset she left the owners a one-star review on Tripadvisor.
Natasha Vrany, 39, and her 62-year-old cousin Belinda Newman had just visited Jessica’s Place, the home of the world-famous tame hippos Jessica (pictured) and Richie in Hoedspruit, South Africa, when they were suddenly savaged — reportedly leaving Newman holding in her own intestines.
The owners of the popular tourist spot insist the attacker was another wild hippo, and not one of their so-called “children”.
“Myself and my cousin were brutally attacked by Richie the hippo on the 14th November at Jessicas place,” Vrany wrote in her scathing November 30 review.
“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.”
Vrany told Pretoria News that the day after they’d visited 21-year-old Jessica and 9-year-old Richie — also known as Seun — at the Joubert’s home, they were sitting on the lawn outside with Tonie, when they were suddenly attacked.
“Tonie had no weapon or rifle with him. We felt quite safe and confident that there would be no issues,” she said.
“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.”
She said she tried to fight him off by scrabbing his eyes with her nails, but it only made him bite down harder.
“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’ (don’t).”
She said her cousin jumped on the hippo’s back to try get him off — and the animal turned its attention on her.
“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.”
Vrany said she managed to run to the house to ask Shirley to fetch a rifle, but then passed out.
“When I woke up, Belinda was standing over me holding her intestines in her hand to try and get them to stay inside,” she said.
Vrany claimed that when she handed her cellphone to Tonie to call an ambulance, he just kept saying “it was a scratch and we will be fine.” She also claimed that he only agreed to hand back the phone if they said the incident happened outside the premises — and it was a wild hippo that attacked.
“While the paramedics were attending to us, Tonie actually brought Jessica the hippo through the house to put her to bed on the veranda,” she said. “I was so shocked, and so were the paramedics.”
“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.”
Both women were taken to hospital and underwent surgery.
Tonie Joubert meanwhile insists it was a wild hippo that attacked — and that he saved the women’s lives at the possible expense of his own, grabbing a rock and bashing the animal’s head until it dropped her and retreated into the water.
“I managed to hit him above the eye, where there is soft bone, and he dropped her,” he said. “I saved her life while putting my own life at risk.”
He knows his two hippos were not responsible, he said, because when he ran back for help, Jessica was fast asleep on the veranda, while Richie was chilling on his blanket.
He also vehemently denied refusing to hand back the phone.
According to their website, Tonie and Shirley found Jessica on March 11, 200o, just hours old and with umbilical cord still attached, after a devastating flood in the area. They bottle-fed her, raising her from a 16kg calf to the 1400kg adult she is today, who allows tourists feed and take pictures with her.
She has been accused of an attack before, but even her ‘victim’ claimed it wasn’t intentional.
A 2014 news report claimed Stephen Jansen van Rensburg, who worked with the hippo, had been left with “his left thumb was hanging on skin” when she bit him. But van Rensburg himself later insisted the news reports were sensationalized, that he had put his hand in her mouth and she’d closed it, piercing the skin.
“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,” he said at the time, per News24.
“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.”
While Jessica has received a handful one one-star reviews on Tripadvisor — usually due to poor roads, dodgy hours or the “rude” owners — the vast majority have been very positive.