Copyright 2021 – Stephen Redgwell
It was 1966 – approximately ten years after they started building the Kariba Dam – to fill what would become Lake Kariba. Back then, tourism wasn’t like it is today.
My father, grandfather and I were traveling from Victoria Falls to Lake Kariba. There were six of us in the boat. The other three were Kobo, our Tonga guide, and his two sons. Kobo was a powerfully built man, as were his boys. That was definitely a factor in what happened later.
Time has fuzzed the details, but were weren’t far from the lake. Despite what North Americans think, most of Africa is safe, as long as you obey certain rules. We were traveling on the Zambezi River. The first rule was not to go swimming in the water, unless you want to be lunch for a Nile crocodile!
The second was to steer clear of hippos. Many tourists have found out what happens whey they get too close to one. They might be cute and harmless looking, but the water is their home. They are not clumsy or gentle when angered. Watch out! You really don’t want to get three tons of hippo mad! They can easily overturn a boat and bite you in half!
Kobo was describing the wildlife and pointing out animals near the shoreline. At one point, he stood up and pointed at some hippos who were cooling themselves in the water about 50 yards away. As Kobo described the scene, our boat hit a sandbar and launched him into the water! His oldest boy started laughing at his father…until he saw the crocs!
The rest was a blur. We watched horrified as one of the crocs attacked Kobo and pulled him under the water! The beasts were about 15 feet long and weighed over 1000 lbs each! They had every intention of eating Kobo as a shore lunch!
The croc only got his shirt, so Kobo moved toward dry land where he would have better chance of survival. He yelled to his son in Tongan and a Martini Enfield sailed though the air and into his hands!
Kobo was standing in about one foot of water, trying to escape three large crocs. The closest one got a 303 British in the mouth, effectively slowing him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out two cartridges. He wasn’t going down easy!
The Martini Enfield is a single shot. Kobo opened the action and the spent case flew out. He fed a fresh cartridge into the rifle, while moving backward to safety. Another croc swam quickly forward to grab its meal. Kobo leveled the rifle and shot again. The bullet hit squarely into the middle of the beast’s head, turning the water red!
Once again, he ejected the spent case and fed his last cartridge into the rifle. By this time he had managed to get out of the water, but he was hardly safe! The third croc started to move toward him, but stopped. Did it taste the blood of his comrades? Did fear slow his movement? Did it realize the danger that this cornered man presented? We’ll never know. It turned and swam away, much to the relief of Kobo and us in the boat!
A 303 saved the day. Since then, the story has taken on epic proportions, but no one mentions the 303 British. They only speak of a determined man with a single shot rifle who won against three ravenous Nile crocodiles!