Farmer Marius Els insisted he ‘trusted with his heart’ that his beloved pet hippo Humphrey would not harm anybody.
You could argue that he was blinded by the close bond he’d forged with the fearsome creature – or you could say he was plain stupid.
Either way, he was very wrong – which he discovered in the most emphatic and horrifying way imaginable.
His ripped and mutilated body was discovered floating in a blood-soaked river on his land in South Africa after Humphrey launched a devastating attack, biting his ‘master’ several times with his huge teeth.
The gruesome scenes came after Marius, 40, had repeatedly boasted about brushing the 1.2 tonne beast’s gnashers, swimming with him and riding him like a horse in the water.
Marius, a married former Army Major, had told pals the six-year-old hippo was “like a son” to him and the animal would even come running when he was called for.
He had raised the animal from the age of five-months-old after he was rescued from a flood.
“Humphrey’s like a son to me, he’s just like a human,” he said. “There’s a relationship between me and Humphrey and that’s what some people don’t understand.
“They think you can only have a relationship with dogs, cats and domestic animals. But I have a relationship with the most dangerous animal in Africa.”
In fact, hippos are the deadliest land mammal on planet Earth.
Often seen as cute and mistaken for slow, docile animals, they are actually deceptively quick and very aggressive.
They possess incredibly sharp teeth and are thought to kill around 500 people every year – more than lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos and buffalos combined.
Marius kept 20 different species of exotic animals at his farm in rural South Africa, including a giraffe and a rhino.
But he had developed a special fondness for Humphrey, for whom he had even built a special lake.
He always maintained that he knew the risks.
“It’s a little bit dangerous, but I trust him with my heart that he will not harm anybody,” he added.
“I can swim with him. I go in the water. He allows me to get on his back, and I ride him like a horse. He swims with me.”
Although he was proud to be known as the ‘hippo tamer’, Marius recognised his unusual pet’s power and potential danger.
“If he decides to get me off his back, then he throws me over like a horse,” he told an interviewer before his death.
Before the fatal attack, there were warning signs, but Marius had brushed them off.
He had seen Humphrey’s dangerous side when he tried to attack two terrified canoeists as they made their way down the Vaal river near his 400-acre farm in Free State province.
A 52-year-old man and his seven-year-old grandson were forced to scramble out of their canoe and climb a tree when they were approached by the hungry hippo.
They attempted to drive the animal away from the tree by clapping and making a noise but Humphrey refused to budge and they were stuck for hours.
The hippo’s owner eventually managed to lure him away with an apple.
Apparently Marius’ wife Louise pleaded with him to give Humphrey space, but he didn’t listen.
In November, 2011, her fears were proved right.
Marius’ mauled and mutilated body was found in a river running through his farm.
Ambulance service spokesman Jeffrey Wicks said: “Paramedics responded to the scene to find that the man had been bitten several times by the animal.
“It had also been immersed in the river for an unknown period.”