Marius Ells had raised Humphrey the Hippo (6) since he was five months old, but that didn’t stop Humphrey from repeatedly biting his owner and then leaving his body in a river.

Only this year Els was pictured happily riding on his 1200kg pet bull hippo’s back.

“Humphrey’s like a son to me, he’s just like a human,” he said at the time.

“There’s a relationship between me and Humphrey and that’s what some people don’t understand.”

Els felt he had such a special relationship with his hippo that he built Humphery his own special lake, markring him out for special treatment from the 20 different species of exotic animals, including giraffe and rhino, on his farm near Klerksdorp in South Africa’s north west.

However, Els was well aware of his pet’s power and danger. Hippos are considered to one of the world’s most dangerous animals. They are, by nature, very aggressive – especially when young calves are present.

They commonly attack humans with no apparent provocation, usually using their enormous canine teeth to gouge their victims.

They can weigh up to three tonnes and can travel at speeds of up to 30mph.

“If he decides to get me off his back, then he throws me over like a horse”, Mr Els told an interviewer before his death, adding: “My friends won’t even go near him”

A spokesman for one of South Africa’s private ambulance services revealed that his staff were called to Mr Els’ farm late on Saturday evening.

‘Paramedics responded to the scene to find that the man had been bitten several times by the animal and had also been immersed in the river for an unknown period,’ Jeffrey Wicks said.

Mr Wicks explained that the farmer was declared dead at the scene, but added it was not know for how long he had lain undiscovered.