SAN SALVADOR • El Salvador's main zoo is in trouble for claiming that a hippopotamus died of a brutal stabbing attack by unidentified people, when an autopsy revealed that poor care could have led to its death.
Gustavito, a 15-year-old hippo which had been in the National Zoological Park in eastern San Salvador almost all his life, died on Feb 26 after suffering for days.
The government, giving information from the zoo, said it had been stabbed and beaten by unidentified assailants four days earlier, resulting in internal bleeding.
That account triggered shock and revulsion in the Central American nation and was relayed in international media reports.
But the autopsy revealed no puncture marks in the animal's 2.5cm- thick skin, state prosecutor Mario Salazar revealed last Thursday.
Instead, a detailed forensic examination showed that Gustavito had apparently died from pulmonary haemorrhaging - acute bleeding from the lung.
The Culture Minister, Ms Silvia Elena Regalado, said that in itself did not rule out an attack on the hippo, which she noted could have died from the resulting stress.
But a workers' union in her department said the animal had been ill for 17 days before its death.
The union alleged that the authorities had not properly followed up on the matter.
Mr Mauricio Sermeno, head of environmental activists' group Unes, said the initial account of a deadly attack on the big hippo "was something unbelievable".
The government should "publicly apologise and give the true version of the death", he added.
He also advised against closing the zoo, which some critics have called for in the wake of the hippo's death.
"The zoo is in a precarious position, with insufficient resources," Mr Sermeno said.
"What could be done is to restructure the park and give it more support so it can maintain the species."