‘Suspicious deaths’ at El Salvador zoo under investigation – state prosecutor

One of the last images of Gustavito the hippopotamus before his death at the national zoo in El Salvador © AFP

The death of Gustavito the hippo in El Salvador’s National Zoo in February sparked outcry online amid allegations that he had been brutally attacked. Now, after the deaths of more animals at the zoo, a darker story of neglect has come to light.

A post-mortem examination of Gustavito determined that he had died of pulmonary hemorrhage, or excessive bleeding in the lung, as a result of neglect.

Despite claims that the animal had been savagely attacked, which were shared online in the immediate aftermath of his demise, it emerged that he had been sick for 17 days prior to his death.

In the past month alone, a puma, an infant spider monkey, and a zebra have all died at the same zoo, prompting state prosecutors to launch a malpractice and animal cruelty investigation.

“The traditional zoo concept is already obsolete,” El Salvador’s Culture Ministry said in a statement, adding that the National Zoo will be transformed into a nature preserve.

Soberana the puma died in the early hours of April 24, following surgery to repair a prolapsed intestine.

Zoo authorities estimated that the puma was eight years old when she arrived at the park in 2004 and 21 when she died. Pumas normally live to an age of between eight and 13 years in the wild, and 20 when in captivity, so the animal’s death was not unexpected, given her age.

A zebra was also found dead at the zoo in the past month after a 5.1 magnitude earthquake hit the region. Park officials believe the temblor frightened the animal so badly that it fatally collided with a metal fence in its enclosure in panic.

One of the zoo’s 64 spider monkeys also drowned in what is believed to be death by misadventure.

“The monkey was a newborn, and in one of its early expeditions amid the branches it lost balance, fell into the water [and drowned],” said Flor de los Angeles Garcia, head of the mammal enclosure at the zoo.

When questioned about whether a so-called “megaproject” in the vicinity of the zoo might have had something to do with the deaths, El Salvador’s head of culture, Silvia Elena Regalado, denied any connection between the work and the animals’ unfortunate fates.

“There has been an investment of $1.2 million (€1.1mn) in special nutrition and medicine for the animals, as well as payment for the specialists who care for the animals,” she said in an interview with Orbita TV, as cited by La Pagina.

The “megaproject” is a major urban renewal initiative that entails adding pedestrian areas, improving public spaces, upgrading sports facilities, and expanding museums and parks in the capital.

“Our park hasn’t purchased any new animals since 2009. Closing this space is abandoning mistreated animals… There is no relation between the ‘megaproject’ and a supposed closure of the park. Instead, we are beginning the improvement of the park and the remodeling,” Regalado concluded. (RT)