Conservation took a symbolic battering this week when El Salvador’s notorious undercurrent of violence spilled out into a senseless, and ultimately fatal, attack on a national hero, Gustavito, the beloved hippopotamus.
The much-loved hippo was found with bruises and puncture wounds after apparently being attacked with metal poles, knives, and rocks at the National Zoo of El Salvador sometime Tuesday night. He died from the injuries on Sunday evening. An investigation has been launched to track down the individuals behind the attack and their motives.
“Here we’re used to seeing the dead every day,” Martin Castillo, a street vendor in the San Salvador told Associated Press. “They kill us like flies, but this tops it all. They killed an animal that only entertained us.”
Common hippopotamuses, such as Gustavito, aren’t native to El Salvador or indeed the Americas at all. In the wild, they can only be found in sub-Saharan Africa, while the other member of the Hippopotamidae family, the pygmy hippo, is found in West Africa. Rubbing salt into the wound of this pointless death, the hippopotamus is considered a vulnerable species and is listed on the IUCN Red List.
The country’s Secretary of Culture released a statement praising the work of the vets and biologists who tried to save Gustavito following his “brutal” attack. The statement went on to say that the National Zoo had already suspended the practice of buying exotic species in 2009, but the shocking events have led them to accelerate the program to transform the zoo into a center for the protection of species native to El Salvador.
Meanwhile, Salvadorans on social media are in mourning, pouring their hearts out about the loss of this tubby national treasure.