Baby dies, dozens feared dead after hippo charges and capsizes canoe on river in Malawi


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A 1-year-old child died and 23 people were missing and feared dead after a hippopotamus charged into and capsized a canoe on a river in southern Malawi, authorities said Tuesday.

The long wooden canoe was carrying 37 people across the Shire River on their way to neighboring Mozambique when it was hit by the hippo in the Nsanje district on Monday.

Malawian police rescued 13 with the help of World Food Program personnel who were working in the area and provided boats for the rescue operation, Nsanje District Police Commissioner Dominic Mwandira said.

The people were feared dead because the search had been going on for more than 24 hours, police spokesperson Agnes Zalakoma said.

CORRECTION Malawi Canoe Hippo
Malawi’s Minister of Water and Sanitation Abida Mia, left, waits with local Member of Parliament Gladys Ganda, right, for news updates from the rescue party on the banks of Shire River, May 16,2023.

Austin Kachipeya / AP

Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera sent Minister of Water and Sanitation Abida Mia to the scene. She said locals told her hippos often caused problems in the area and they wanted authorities to relocate some of the animals.

“The search mission to locate the missing individuals is currently underway,” Zalakoma said.

The canoe started to list and eventually capsized after the hippo collided with it, Zalakoma said.

The Shire is Malawi’s largest river.

Boat accidents are common in Malawi, where the lack of regular water transport forces many to cross lakes and rivers in sometimes rickety boats, in the absence of proper regulations.

Last month at least five people died after an overcrowded boat sank in Malawi’s central district of Mchinji.

Hippos, which weigh up to 8,000 pounds, are the heaviest land animal after the elephant, according to World Wildlife Fund. They take refuge from the heat by living in water during the day, and at night they come ashore to feed. 

AFP contributed to this report.

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