MODIMOLLE, South Africa (AP) — A hippo who wandered into a swimming pool at a South African game reserve three days ago died Friday before a rescue team could pull him out with a crane.
Wildlife rescue expert Simon Prinsloo had been pouring water on the animal with a bucket and then through a hose to keep the hippo hydrated. The team waited for a veterinarian to come before hoisting out the young hippo but he died as the vet arrived. The young hippo had plunged into the deep pool on Tuesday after being chased off from his herd by male members seeking dominance.
The plight of the stranded hippo captured the attention of many in South Africa. Live television coverage showed the hippo spouting water in the pool. But the lighthearted story became somber when the hippo appeared inert Friday morning.
One woman was crying at the scene as the lifeless body of the hippo was lifted into an orange animal trailer. Prinsloo confirmed the death of the animal with tears in his eyes shortly after the operation.
Dr. Alex Lewis, the veterinarian handling the case, arrived at the scene late Friday morning. Lewis was expected to help with the rescue the day before, but couldn't make it. When journalists questioned Lewis about not arriving earlier, he said he couldn't have saved the animal because of the aggravated stress it experienced ever since he had been fighting for a position in his herd.
Lewis said he had advised the owners of the lodge to feed the animal in order to make it strong enough for the rescue. He blamed the overwhelming media attention for the pressure to attempt the rescue as early as Friday.
But according to Lewis, media coverage can help save hippos in the future by raising attention to the importance of managing young bulls in herds.
"I'm treating populations, I'm not treating individuals," Lewis said. "If it means we're not going to have this again, then yes, he was a martyr for his cause and Solly did a good job."
Doreen Cronje, a guest at the lodge taking part in a conference, said during the rescue operation that she had been inquiring about the animal and hoped that the hippo would make it out of the pool safely.
"Especially here in South Africa, we care a lot about our animals," Cronje said.
The swimming pool at the Monate Conservation Lodge near Modimolle, a small town north of Johannesburg, was big enough for the hippo to swim in and submerge himself but it had no steps and there was no way the animal could get out on his own. Rescuers drained most of the water from the pool in the rescue effort and a crane was positioned to hoist the one-ton animal.
Ruby Ferreira, the manager of the lodge, said they named the hippo Solly after a ranger on the game farm who has worked there for 8 years.