Raul Arias / Via Flickr: raubianconeri
Police in El Salvador said they are investigating the "cowardly and inhumane attack" at the National Zoological Park that led to death of the beloved hippo Gustavito on Sunday.
The 15-year-old hippo suffered "multiple blows on different parts of the body" from "blunt and sharp objects" in an attack Tuesday night, the Ministry of Culture said in a statement, according to CNN.
The next day, staff noticed that Gustavito was hiding underwater in his pool and refusing to eat. It took veterinarians until Thursday to examine the animal, since he wouldn't leave the water, and they discovered he was covered with bruises and puncture wounds, Zoo Director Vladen Henríquez said at a news conference, according to the Associated Press.
Zoo officials tried to save the animal with around-the-clock care, but he died from his injuries on Sunday. The zoo said a necropsy would be performed to determine the exact cause of death.
Zoo officials said someone likely entered the animal's enclosure at night and beat him with "blunt and sharp objects" — rocks and pieces of metal were found in the area.
Henríquez said 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 cruel nature of the attack stood out even in a country accustomed to violence — this year alone, an average of 10 people have been killed everyday. The beating is also surprising considering how powerful and aggressive hippos are, with males like Gustavito weighing an average 3,000 pounds.
Gustavito was born in Guatemala and brought to El Salvador 13 years ago, becoming a popular attraction at the zoo.
Jose Cabezas / Reuters
Salvadorans expressed an outpouring of love for Gustavito, leaving flowers outside the gate of the national zoo, which is closed into 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."