As large as he was, this poor hippo was still defenseless against his attackers.
El Salvador has one of the highest crime rates of any country in the Western hemisphere, which originates from organized crime amongst gangs. In what’s being called a gang crisis, tens of thousands of gang members walk the streets in the country and incite violence, murder, and fear amongst citizens.
One unlikely victim this past week was a beloved hippo that lived at El Salvador’s National Zoo for the last 13 years and entertained countless citizens that passed through the zoo. Last Tuesday, zookeepers noticed the 3,000 pound hippo, Gustavito, acting strangely. He refused to eat and remained hidden underwater where no one could approach him.
It wasn’t until Thursday that his keepers were able to inspect him and made a shocking discovery: his body was covered in “bruises, lacerations on the head and body, cramps and abdominal pain.” Though they tried to treat his wounds and save the poor hippo, he died on Sunday from his injuries.
The attack was as mysterious as it was brutal. Officials don’t have any suspects but it’s assumed that Gustavito’s death was a result of the horrible gang violence sweeping the nation that doesn’t discriminate when it comes to its victims. Despite being accustomed to the violence, citizens are outraged at this senseless death and are mourning the hippo.
“Here we’re used to seeing the dead every day,” said Martin Castillo, a street vendor in central San Salvador. “They kill us like flies, but this tops it all. They killed an animal that only entertained us.”
These sentiments are matched by people throughout the nation, not only because the attack on Gustavito was so unnecessary but because of the unfathomable cruelty inflicted upon him. Salvadoran officials said that a combination of “blunt and sharp objects” were likely used on the hippo and some of these objects were found in the area. Gustavito had injuries in his mouth, which were likely sustained when he tried to open his mouth to defend himself. He also had lacerations on his feet and face, which may have come from an ice pick.
Many have come together using the hashtag #TodosSomosGustavito (“We Are All Gustavito”) and another phrase meaning “Forgive Us, Gustavito.” One particularly sad artist rendition has an injured Gustavito faced towards a drawing of El Salvador, which is filled with the word “Violence,” while he asks, “Why are you like this?”
An official investigation is underway, although authorities did not confirm that the motives were linked to random violence. Gang violence in El Salvador has been decreasing because of government crackdowns but the country still saw 5,278 murders last year, most of them a result of gang rivalry.
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