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Something fishy went down at the National Zoo of El Salvador recently, and as a result, a great animal lost his life. Now it’s important for authorities to dig into the clues and figure out exactly what occurred, if for no other reason than to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself, causing other animals at the zoo to be affected.

It all seemingly began when Gustavito, the zoo’s 15-year-old hippopotamus, started refusing to eat and spending all of his time underwater. When the zoo’s veterinarians checked in on him, they reportedly found a distressed animal with lacerations on his face and neck.

During a press conference, the zoo’s director Vladen Henríquez said Gustavito had suffered “multiple blows on different parts of the body,” including wounds on his feet and in his mouth.Henríquez asserted that these injuries had been sustained during a vicious and brutal attack that occurred in this hippo’s enclosure one night. Further, he stated that the hippo was assaulted with “blunt and sharp objects” – a statement later repeated by El Salvador’s Ministry of Culture, which also noted bruises and abdominal pain. Henríquez said the wounds may have been caused by an ice pick or knife and that metal pieces and rocks were also found in the enclosure.

Although Gustavito was alive for that initial examination, he died within days. Henríquez explained that Gustavito had been buried “straight away” so that Salvadorians would remember him as he had been before the attack.

Gustavito had been a main attraction at the National Zoo of El Salvador and a favorite among locals. Following his death, those people came out in spades to mourn his memory, hold candle and prayer vigils, and leave flowers at the zoo’s gate. On social media, they posted messages with the hashtag #TodosSomosGustavito, which translates as “We’re all Gustavito.”

But not everyone was so ready to accept the story as it had been reported, feeling it unlikely that someone could so easily attack a healthy 3,000-pound male hippo. Unfortunately, none of the zoo’s CCTV cameras had a good view of Gustavito’s enclosure, so who was to tell.

But then the autopsy came through, which according to Agence France-Presse, revealed not a single puncture wound in his mouth or on his skin to suggest a brutal attack from sharp objects. Instead, state prosecutor Mario Salazar said the forensic report showed that Gustavito had died of a pulmonary haemorrhage, i.e., bleeding from the lung. And Culture Minister Silvia Elena Regalado said that a workers’ union in her department claimed Gustavito had been sick for at least 17 days before his death. These findings suggested improper care, rather than direct brutality inflicted upon the animal.

What’s clear is that the truth has yet to reveal itself in its entirety, and with other animals’ lives potentially at stake, this is not something that should be simply swept under the rug. It’s horrible enough that the world has needlessly lost one member of an endangered species, and we don’t want to see the same thing happen to other animals being kept at the National Zoo of El Salvador.

Sign this petition asking Justice Minister Mauricio Ramirez Landaverde to demand a full investigation and find those responsible for the death of Gustavito.

Image source: Nuttapong Jeenpadipat/Shutterstock