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Beloved Hippo Called Gustavito Likely Died From Inadequate Care At El Salvador Zoo, Not Brutal Beating

El Salvador's national zoo said a hippopotamus, Gustavito, died after being brutally attacked with sharp metal objects, but now it appears the animal died from poor care.

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Last month, residents of El Salvador mourned the death of a beloved hippopotamus, Gustavito, after the national zoo claimed he died as a result of a brutal beating by trespassers, but new evidence suggests that the animal likely died from poor care.

The 15-year-old hippo, who has been the National Zoological Park in San Salvador for most of its life, died on Feb. 26 after suffering for days.

Government officials, citing information from the zoo, said Gustavito suffered "multiple blows on different parts of the body" from "blunt and sharp objects" in an attack a few nights before he died, according to CNN.

Los médicos veterinarios del Parque Zoológico Nacional siguen trabajando 24/7 para mejorar la salud del hipopótamo… https://t.co/M58KYmJdkE

Zoo Director Vladen Henríquez had held a news conference and claimed someone likely entered the animal's enclosure at night and beat him with "blunt and sharp objects." He even said rocks and pieces of metal were found in the area, according to the Associated Press.

Henríquez claimed Gustavito had wounds on his feet and in his cheeks that could have been caused by an ice pick.

“There were injuries inside his mouth,” probably inflicted “when the animal tried to defend himself,” Henríquez said, according to CNN.

The account of Gustavito's brutal attack stood out even in a country accustomed to violence — this year alone, an average of 10 people have been killed every day.

But an autopsy revealed no puncture marks, the Agence France-Presse reported.

Instead, a forensic report shows Gustavito died from pulmonary hemorrhaging, or bleeding from the lung, state prosecutor Mario Salazar said.

Culture Minister Silvia Elena Regalado said she had not ruled out the possibility of an attack on the hippo, but a workers' union in her department said Gustavito had been sick for at least 17 days before its death.

Some, including environmental activists, have pointed to the fact that the zoo's account seems nearly impossible, especially considering how powerful and aggressive hippos are, with males like Gustavito weighing an average 3,000 pounds.

Following Gustavito's death, Salvadorans expressed an outpouring of love for the animal, leaving flowers outside the gate of the national zoo, which is closed until further notice, and held candles and prayer vigils.

On social media, people wrote messages to Gustavitio using the hashtag #TodosSomosGustavito, which means "We’re all Gustavito."

This message connects the hippo's death with the ongoing violence in the country, with Gustavito looking at an outline of the country and asking, “Why are you like this?”


Whoever did this has to pay. My heart goes out to you and your keepers; may you rest in peace. #Gustavito… https://t.co/XAf7l2tRDp

Que gente sin corazón cómo se atreven hacerle daño a un pobre animalito #Gustavito 😞

"People without a heart how dare they hurt a poor little animal #Gustavito"

"Here we are better"

Michelle Broder Van Dyke is a reporter and night editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Hawaii.

Contact Michelle Broder Van Dyke at michelle@buzzfeed.com.

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