Florida woman survives hippo attack on birthday trip to Zimbabwe

A Florida woman is “incredibly lucky” to be alive after she was nearly killed by a fiercely protective mamma hippo while on a dream vacation to Africa, according to reports.

Kristen Yaldor, of Odessa, decided to celebrate her 37th birthday with an extravagant trip to South Africa and Zimbabwe with her husband, Ryan Yaldor, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

They were floating down the Zambezi River, along with two tour guides, when the animal came up under their canoe and tossed the vessel skyward in an instant, sending Kristen into the water while her husband managed to swim to a nearby island. The massive mammal chomped down on Kristen’s leg, snapping her femur.

Kristen survived the attack but remains in intensive care in South Africa. Her mother-in-law, Martine Yaldor, told the paper that it’s nothing short of a miracle that the family isn’t in mourning right now rather than wishing her a quick recovery.

“If one of those [incisor] teeth hit her femoral artery, we would probably be planning a funeral today,” Martine told the Tampa Bay Times. “By all accounts, she was incredibly lucky.”

Martine provided emails to the newspaper containing her son’s account of the canoe trip, as well as that of the CEO of the tour operator in Victoria Falls, Wild Horizons. Those accounts, according to the newspaper, do not match on several key fronts, including whether Kristen followed a guide’s direction to swim away from the hippo and the time it took to get her to a hospital.

“We all know there are always risks involved when you interact with wildlife,” Martine told the newspaper. “But the facts here are so distorted and misstated. They actually did not do anything frivolous at all.”

A spokesman for Zimbabwe’s National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority confirmed the attack to Zimbabwe’s Sunday News, but the newspaper misidentified Yaldor as Christine Yaldor.

“Our message remains the same: We urge tourists to be vigilant and extra careful,” spokesperson Tinashe Farawo told the newspaper. “Never underestimate these animals. Simply stay away from them. Let us be careful and avoid unnecessary deaths and injuries.”

Another witness told the newspaper that Yaldor and her husband were attacked after getting “too close” to the massive animal.

But in an email to Tampa Bay Times, Ryan said he and his wife were never warned about a protective female hippo in the area.

“We had no idea there was a baby,” he wrote. “We were just told, ‘Hippos ahead on the right, let’s move to the left.’”

The company’s account, meanwhile, claims that a guide yelled for the Yaldors to swim to a nearby island while he tried to distract the hippo. Kristen was snatched by the animal at that point, according to the company.

But Ryan insists his wife was thrown into the water before she was attacked. A guide’s faulty cellphone and radio then delayed the response of emergency officials, he said.

“Kristen was pulled under as soon as she hit the water,” Ryan wrote in an email on Sunday. “She had no opportunity to swim to shore.”

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