Marius Els rides his pet hippo, Humphrey. The hippo killed Els on November 12, 2011 in a dam at his farm in the Free State, South Africa.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — A South African man has been killed by his pet hippo, Humphrey, which he used to ride like a horse and swim with on his Free State farm.

Marius Els, 41, an army major who lived on a farm along the Vaal River, had raised the 2,645-pound bull hippopotamus from the age of five months, and said the animal was "like a son" to him.

Humphrey was rescued as a calf during a flood on the river, and given to Els after he grew too big for the people who had initially adopted him, the South African Press Association reported

In August, Humphrey the hippo, now age 6, was blamed for killing calves belonging to Els's business partner. The animal also broke out of its dam enclosure and chased golfers at a nearby club, SAPA said.

Els died Saturday when Humphrey attacked him in the dam on his farm, biting him repeatedly.

Els had reportedly been warned many times that Humphrey was still a wild animal and had to be treated with caution. Hippos, which have huge, sharp teeth, are among the most dangerous animals in Africa, known for being territorial and highly aggressive.

But Els always maintained that the sound of his voice would bring the hippo home, and described Humphrey as "loveable" and a "gentle giant," SAPA reported.

In a video made earlier this year, called "I Love Humphrey, My Pet Hippo," Els is shown feeding Humphrey apples and riding him in the water.

"I feed him apples — he opens his mouth's a little bit dangerous, but you get used to it, and I trust him with my heart that he will not harm anybody," Els said.

"It's a little bit dangerous, but I can swim with him and go in the water, he allows me to get on his back and I ride him like a horse."

"There's a relationship between me and Humphrey and that's what some people don't understand," Els had previously said, the Daily Mail reported.

"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," he said.

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