A beloved hippopotamus at El Salvador’s National Zoo has been beaten to death in a shocking attack.
Gustavito was ambushed with metal bars, knives and rocks during an assault last Tuesday, leaving him covered with bruises and puncture wounds.
The male hippo, who was born and raised in Guatemala and brought to El Salvador 13 years ago, died of his injuries on Sunday.
Zoo keepers did not discover his condition until Thursday because he did not leave his pool.
Justice Minister Mauricio Ramirez Landaverde said an investigation had been opened and police are trying to identify who broke into Gustavito’s enclosure and attacked him.
Even among a population numbed by a staggering human death toll due to gang violence in recent years, the animal’s death late Sunday stirred outrage.
Salvadorans mourned through social media and some left flowers at the gate of the zoo, which has been closed until further notice.
“Here we’re used to seeing the dead every day,” Martin Castillo, a street vendor in the capital’s historic downtown, said Monday. “They kill us like flies, but this tops it all. They killed an animal that only entertained us.”
“We’re angry,” said Carmen Rogel, who often brings her grandson to the zoo. “We didn’t know they had killed Gustavito and were surprised when we arrived and the gate was closed.”
El Salvador is one of the world’s most violent countries, recording 5,278 homicides last year, or an average of 14 people killed per day. Most of the killings have been blamed on powerful street gangs.