The South African hippo's plight captivated animal lovers and his death Friday left many in tears, with some blaming a vet who arrived too late.
MODIMOLLE, South Africa — What started as a day of hope for a young hippo turned to tragedy when rescuers were unable to save the 3-ton beast from the swimming pool he plunged into after being chased from his herd.
The hippo’s plight captivated animal lovers and his death Friday left many in tears, with some blaming a vet who arrived too late.
“It started out as a happy story and now it’s a tragic story. It’s devastating,” said Ruby Ferreira, manager of the game-preserve lodge where the hippopotamus nicknamed Solly — although some reports said Harry — had been stuck in the swimming pool since Tuesday.
The 4-year-old hippo had been chased from his herd by dominant males, and he wandered into the Monate Conservation Lodge and plopped into its 8-foot-deep pool.
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Although he was able to swim freely, he couldn’t get out because the pool has no steps.
Solly’s plight captivated South Africans, with live TV broadcasts from the pool and newspaper headlines such as: “It’s all systems go for the rescue of Solly the hippo.”
Someone set up a Twitter account on Solly’s behalf and tweeted purported hippo quotes.
Solly’s demise Friday left several of those involved pointing fingers of blame. Ferreira said a game-capture team had been waiting since Thursday for a veterinarian to show up to tranquilize Solly and oversee the operation to hoist him out with a crane.
By early Friday, the hippo was showing signs of stress and was no longer able to stand in the pool, which had been drained of most of its water in preparation for the rescue.
Just as veterinarian Alex Lewis arrived, Solly tried one last time to get to his feet. He couldn’t make it. Exhausted, he dropped his head into the knee-deep water, and then lay still.
Wildlife-rescue expert Simon Prinsloo was in tears as he confirmed that Solly was dead.
Ferreira said hippos are sensitive and Solly’s stress level had probably been rising since he was forced from his group, called a pod, and took shelter in the pool.
Once inside, he couldn’t get out, adding to his stress.
“It all just added up and added up,” she said.