Nearing the end of February, a beloved hippopotamus from the National Zoo of El Salvador who went by the name of Gustavito passed away at the age of 15 years. While this fact remains true, there has been a lot of misunderstanding in how exactly the animal died.
Image Credit: EPA
Initial reports cited that an unidentified group of trespassing assailants attacked and killed the animal with knives spears, and other sharp objects, but now a post-mortem autopsy suggest that these were fabricated stories and that the animal died from other causes.
The autopsy revealed Gustavito showed signs of being inadequately cared for, rather than being attacked. These clues illustrate how the initial story may have been a cowardly attempt by the zoo to cover up their poor care for the animal without looking bad to the public.
Despite an official statement saying that the animal was stabbed, shanked, and brutally attacked, investigators found no traces of puncture wounds anywhere on the animal’s body. Instead, what they did find was internal bleeding inside the animal’s lung, known as pulmonary hemorrhage.
Not only did the unrealistic news of an animal attack spark outrages in the surrounding communities, but the false information was also distributed over the internet through numerous news sources, including CNN, invoking strong emotions in animal lovers on an international scale.
Further investigations into Gustavito’s cause of death, which included interviewing numerous staff from the zoo, revealed that the animal was starting to act strangely as early as two weeks prior to his passing.
Unluckily, it's reported that none of the zoo’s video surveillance systems have an adequate angle for seeing what really happened to Gustavito, so the entire investigation comes down to some good old-fashioned sleuth work.
Hippos are listed as vulnerable under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list. That said, while the death of this wonderful creature has left a bad taste in many people’s mouths due to the circumstances surrounding his death, it also leaves a mark in animal conservation efforts.
Whether the animal died by attack or by poor care, both cases highlight animal cruelty in one form or another and highlight the importance of keeping our animals safe from these kinds of abuse.