SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — El Salvador’s widespread violence reached an unexpected corner with the brutal and fatal beating of the national zoo’s beloved hippopotamus Gustavito.
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.”
Zoo director Vladan Henriquez said at a news conference that the hippo was covered with bruises and puncture wounds after apparently being attacked with metal bars, knives and rocks.
The attack occurred last week, sometime Tuesday night. But zookeepers did not discover the hippo’s injuries until Thursday because he did not leave his pool. Gustavito died the injuries late Sunday.
Justice Minister Mauricio Ramirez Landaverde said an investigation had been opened.
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.
Gustavito was born and raised in Guatemala, but was brought to El Salvador 13 years ago.
“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.”
Well, famous in El Salvador I guess. At first, I saw this story and kind of passed over it. I’m not going to fake any sympathy for a creature I never knew. The Harambe thing, while absolutely fascinating during its inception, is finally over with. I think there’s only so much room for dead animals in a viral world.
What I would go on to learn is that this Hippo is pretty much the Harambe of Latin America. The only difference is that the fame and attention existed during its life, instead of being a result of its tragic death. Guy has been famous for years. Old money, you know? After I saw the story, I ran into a co-worker who is from El Salvador. In passing I briefly mentioned
“Hey man, whats with your country and killing Hippo’s. Bunch of savages over there huh?”.
The jovial reaction I usually get when jabbing his ethnicity was not there. What was evident was a clear look of horror and panic. He knew exactly what I was talking about, but didn’t want it to be true. “Someone killed Gustavito?!” was his first question, and he had to know the answer ASAP.
“I think that was the name, I don’t know I just saw a famous Hippo got killed in El Salvad-
” ARE YOU SURE IT WAS A HIPPO?! A HIPPO RIGHT, NOT A GIRAFFE OR A ELEPHANT?”
At this point he is more or less grabbing me from my shirt collar. I’m starting to feel like the bar tender in Dumb and Dumber. I have no idea what I just said, but its got this guy hot and bothered and I better answer his question and tell him where Mary Swanson lives.
” Uhh yeah, it was a big Hippo. Some dudes stabbed it and beat it to death”
Upon showing him the story, I realized how big of a deal Gustavito was in El Salvador. My co-worker…was FLOORED. He was just sitting in the lunch room scrolling through his phone. Devastated. He was talking with his relatives as if it was the Salvadorian 9/11. Checking in to make sure everyone’s OK. Viciously re-posting tributes on every social media platform he was a part of. He turned on CNN to see if they were reporting it. I’m pretty sure the thought of leaving work to go home early and grieve for Gustavito crossed his mind.
As the natural grieving process usually goes, the sorrow quickly turned to anger. He started shoving over chairs. ” This whole world is fucked” type of thing. I thought he was going to cry at one point. After talking him through it, I guess he has a bit of a point. The place is one of the deadliest countries in the world. You have a tough chance staying alive if your just a 28 year old man, and now Hippo’s that are there just to make people happy have targets on their backs.
I knew it was serious when he started saying “Now I HOPE I get deported just so I can find these fucks and put a bullet in their heads”. Guy is willing to get his whole life ripped away from him, and get thrown back into the hell hole he almost died trying to escape, JUST to avenge a hippo.