Humphrey, the hippopotamus, had been raised “like a son” by farmer Marius Els since he was five months old.
The devoted animal lover from South Africa devoted so much to his unusual pet that he even built him a huge lake on his farm so that he could swim in its natural habitat.
Humphrey was rescued from a flood when he was a baby. But when he got too big for the people who took him in, Maurice entered and gave him a home.
Humphrey has been a popular family member for years. He seemed to love life on the 400-hectare farm in the Free State province.
Maurice taught him to swim with people, a past time that he seemed to enjoy. He fed Humphrey and even helped him brush his teeth.
The former army major said, “Humphrey is like a son to me, he’s like a human. There’s a relationship between me and Humphrey, and some people don’t understand that.
“You think you can only have a relationship with dogs, cats and pets. But I have a relationship with the most dangerous animal in Africa.”
Maurice was so safe in the company of his pet that he was even pictured on the back of the 1.2 ton hippo.
However, the farmer always insisted on knowing the risks of an animal as dangerous as a pet – hippos are one of the deadliest animals in the world.
The seemingly awkward animals are responsible for 500 human deaths each year and the deadliest land mammal in the world.
They look unsightly, but hippos have extremely sharp teeth and are aggressive animals.
Hippos are believed to kill more people than lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos and buffaloes combined.
And in the months leading up to the fateful day when Humphrey turned from a loyal and loving pet to a killer, there were reports that the hippopotamus behaved aggressively.
Maurice’s wife, Louise, is said to have warned her husband of the hippopotamus.
In early 2011, a 52-year-old man and his grandson were reported to be canoeing in South Africa on the river that ran through Maurice’s farm.
Humphrey discovered them and is said to have tried to drive them away. The couple had to spend two hours trapped in a tree before Maurice arrived to seduce his ‘pet’ with an apple.
He said: “I call him and he answers immediately to play with me. I feed him apples. He opens his mouth. Big jaws and teeth like this.
“It is a bit dangerous, but I trust him with all my heart that he will not harm anyone.
“I can swim with him. I go into the water. He allows me to get on his back and I ride him like a horse. He swims with me.”
And Maurice’s business partner claims Humphrey killed his calves.
Not only that, but the hippopotamus is also said to have regularly broken out of its enclosure and hiked to the local golf club, where he pursued those who played on the greens.
Maurice always insisted that the out of control hippo could always be brought back to the farm, but those who knew him and Humphrey were not convinced.
One of Maurice’s neighbors said, “We tried to warn him but he didn’t want to listen.”
Then, in November 2011, Humphrey turned completely against the man who saw him as a son.
He bit Maurice to death when the farmer discovered that he was completely immersed in the river where Humphrey had been saved six years earlier.
He had suffered terrible bite marks and terrible injuries.
Paramedics were called, but when they arrived, Maurice was dead and nothing could be done to save him.
Jeffrey Wicks, a spokesman for Netcare 911, a South African healthcare provider, said: “Paramedics responded to the scene and found that the animal had been bitten several times.
“It was also submerged in the river for an unknown time.”