A one-year-old boy has died and 23 people are missing after a hippo hit their boat, capsizing it in Malawi’s biggest river, police say.
Rescue teams are searching for survivors, but hopes of finding anyone alive are fading as the accident occurred on Monday.
The boat was packed with villagers who were crossing the Shire River to work in their fields, as they normally do.
For reasons that are still unclear, a hippo attacked their boat this time.
A total of 14 people managed to swim to safety or were rescued by other villagers who dived into the river to help.
But they failed to rescue the only child in the boat.
His body was recovered by the police maritime unit when it arrived to carry out rescue and search operations.
The accident occurred in the remote Nsanje district in southern Malawi, near the border with Mozambique.
“Officers have been on the scene since yesterday [Monday] when the accident was reported, searching for missing persons,” police spokeswoman for Nsanje district, Agnes Zalakoma, told the BBC.
Local MP Gladys Ganda has repeatedly called for a bridge to be built so that people do not have to risk their lives crossing the river in boats and canoes, but her appeal has so far fallen on deaf ears.
The Shire River is home to many hippos and crocodiles, and boats and canoes are often overcrowded or poorly maintained.
Vessels have capsized before, leading to villagers drowning. But it is rare to hear of a hippo charging at a boat in that part of Malawi.
Such attacks have taken place elsewhere in Malawi, including on fishermen.
Hippos tend to be territorial – and female hippos are known to be extremely aggressive, fiercely defending their young from any perceived threat.
They are the second largest land animal after elephants, and are estimated to kill about 500 people a year in Africa.
Male hippos weigh between 1,600kg (more than 250 stone) and 3,200kg, and females between 650kg and 2,350kg.