A 32-year-old Taiwanese hippopotamus named Ah-he (literally means ‘a river’ in Chinese) died on Monday after suffering two accidents last week.
Prior to the accidents — one of which happened when the hippo leapt out of a moving truck, and the other when a cable hoisting a container snapped, sending the metal box and the animal inside crashing to the ground — the poor hippo was said to have been mistreated and abused by his owner.
The owner, said to be a private zoo operator, could face fines for animal abuse and other offenses. Media reports say the financial penalty could amount to as much as NT$500,000 (US$15,755), with the owner likely to be charged for failing to provide enough protection for the enormous animal as it was being transported to a new location.
Chu Ching-ceng, deputy head of the Department of Animal Industry at Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture, told reporters that the government has asked prosecutors to look into the case.
“The animal was not properly protected during the transportation process, leading to his injuries. What’s worse, he had not received due medical treatment in the last two days,” said Chu.
Ah-he had been under the care of the private Skyzoo for 12 years, and was being temporarily moved to Miaoli while his original living quarters was being renovated.
On the road to his temporary abode in Miaoli, the hippo jumped out of the moving truck in a fit of panic. It hit a parked car and landed on the ground. The injured animal then wasn’t able to move his 1.2-ton body, so it just lay on the road for several hours. Passersby saw tear-like secretion oozing from the hippo’s eyes.
Pictures and video footage of the animal “crying” in the middle of the road soon began circulating in the media, breaking the hearts of animal lovers.
Later, when the hippo was being transferred to a fish pond in Taichung city, the cable on a hoist broke, sending Ah-he and the container to the ground from a height of two meters.
It is clear that Ah-he’s death was caused by these two accidents. The two crashes caused the animal’s diaphragm to be torn apart, making the lung drop to the abdominal area, a post mortem report pointed out.
Cao Xian-shao, spokesman of the Taipei Zoo, said Ah-he is old by hippo’s life standards. Minor injuries can cause chain reaction and serious damage to the animal’s body.
Ah-he was of African breed and is said to have been a star attraction at the zoo. A deformed tooth gave the animal a distinct identity.
The Kaohsiung city government had gifted the animal to Taichung, which then entrusted Skyzoo to take care of the animal.
According to the zoo’s staff, Ah-he did not have a name when he arrived. But when the animal keeper yelled Ah-he, the hippo would emerge from the water with his big mouth open waiting for a meal. And this was where his name came from.
Although some animal experts have said that African hippopotamus are very dangerous, and that they kill around 3,000 people a year — more than the fatalities caused by crocodiles and tigers each year — Ah-he was in fact the only hippo which tourists in Taiwan could touch safely.
Apart from being the star at the zoo, Ah-he also appeared in a popular Taiwan drama “It Started With A Kiss”, a TV soap that featured names such as Lin I-chen and Wang Dung-cheng several years ago.
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