KLERKSDORP, SOUTH AFRICA (BNO NEWS) — A South African man who raised a hippo, which is often considered to be the most dangerous animal in Africa, was found dead on his property on Saturday evening, medics confirmed on Sunday.

41-year-old Marius Els made international news earlier this year when journalists discovered he had been raising a hippo called Humphrey for nearly six years. He bought the animal when he was five months old and allowed it to roam free on his 400 acre (161 hectares) of farmstead.

On Sunday morning, Netcare 911 spokesman Jeffrey Wicks said paramedics responded to the banks of the Vaal River near Klerksdorp in the country’s North West Province on late 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,” Wicks said. “He was declared dead at the scene.”

Also this year, in late March, Els made news again when a 52-year-old man and his 7-year-old grandson were chased by Humphrey while canoeing on the Vaal River. The two sought refuge in a tree and waited for more than two hours before rescue workers arrived at the scene.

As rescue workers were unable to rescue the man and the child, Els later arrived and insisted the animal was only looking for food. “The man entered the water and lured the hippo away from the tree with an apple,” Wicks said in March. “The traumatized man and boy were assessed by medics but did not require hospital treatment.”

In a video published by Barcroft Media earlier this year, Els could be seen riding Humphrey in the dam he built for the animal which weighs about 1,200 kilograms (2,650 pounds). “I trust him with my heart that he will not do harm to anybody,” he said.

But in an interview with Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper in January, Els recognized that Humphrey could “rip a man my size apart with no problem.” “It’s a little bit dangerous,” he admitted.

But, Els added: “Humphrey’s like a son to me, he’s just like a human. 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.”

Els said his friends and family showed a mixed reaction towards his relationship with the hippo. “My friends won’t even go near him,” he told the Daily Mail, adding that his wife Louise worried about him. “She tells me not to trust him all the time because he is very dangerous,” he said.

Hippos are considered to be extremely aggressive, unpredictable and not afraid of humans. They sometimes attack boats or people on land with no apparent provocation and kill them with their large canine teeth or by using their heads like giant sledgehammers.