Cleveland Zoo Hippo Killed in Captivity

    January 15, 2014
    Tina Volpe
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The Nile hippopotamus is one of the largest land mammals on the planet, behind elephants and white rhinos. Their closest living relatives are dolphins and whales, and they are considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The Cleveland Zoo explains: Blackie came to the Zoo from Africa in 1955 when he was about 1 year old. He was born at the Mount Meru Game Sanctuary in Tanzania and brought to Cleveland by Zoo officials and board members who were gathering animals on a safari, which was an acceptable method of acquiring zoo animals prior to the passage of the Endangered Species Act.

His life at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo seemed pleasant enough, and entertained many visitors, but taking animals from the wild into captivity can be extremely stressful on them when forced to leave family and social connections behind.

The organization “Born Free” says, “keeping wild animals in captivity is inherently cruel, as it deprives them of the ability to freely engage in instinctual behaviors in their natural environment. Even when bred in captivity, exotic animals retain all of their natural instincts. They cannot be considered domesticated or tamed.”

“Fortunately for us, he’s a pleasant-natured bull hippo,” said Geoffrey Hall, the zoo’s general curator. “They are considered the most dangerous animals in Africa and kill more humans than lions or other animals do.

The fact that more people are killed by animals taken into captivity than in the wild could be interpreted as animal objective behavior.

But for Blackie, the decision about his life was taken from him on Monday when the zoo euthanized (killed) him, claiming it was due to advanced age-related ailments.

Making that decision to end his long life might be viewed as arrogant because allowing an animal to live out their natural life is respectful and humane. Even though the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo claimed, “He lived a good long life,” communications director Sue Allen told The Plain Dealer. “It was a testament to the care he was given. His needs were really attended to.”

Blackie’s vital statistics were estimated but not exactly known; zoo officials reported he was about 59, said to be the oldest known hippo to have lived in North America, and weighing approximately 3,700 pounds.

Whether Blackie would have lived longer – we will never know, nor will his own decision to die be his.

He was said to have lived a comfortable life, with access to a heated pool designed for the elderly hippo’s probable aches and pains. He was also fed a generous supply of food, which is what experts believe allowed him to outlive the typical age span of hippos – the average life span of hippos is between 30-40 years in the wild.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

  • http://twitter.com/d4m_d33zy d33zy

    Interesting… not sure where to side sense he outlived normal Hippos and Im uncertain of any health problems. I do agree that kaging any animal is just mean. I surely dont like being kaged/in jail.

  • Neil

    Have to agree with Evee but also add a couple of points.

    Would a hippo in the wild have a choice of whether to live or die ?. An old hippo suffering would either linger on and suffer or more likely be killed by predators. So what an absolutely stupid statement to say ” But for Blackie, the decision about his life was taken from him on Monday when the zoo euthanized (killed) him,”.

    It is the responsible act to take for all animals in captivity whether privately they are owned or in zoo’s. Christ I can just imagine the uproar if he was suffering. Oh and don’t forget th zoo could be prosecuted for allowing he suffering.

    Talk about wanting the bread buttered on both sides.

  • http://www.tinavolpe-writer.com/ Tina Volpe

    The hippo should have been left in the wild, not taken and forced to be an ‘attraction’ – that is the main point here. Nature did not take its course. Imprisoning a wild animal, whether in a zoo or water park is morally wrong. They belong in the wild – period. You can chastise all you want, but when they put people in cages, it’s called prison.

  • Mary Nolan

    I am unaware of the physical condition of this hippo and whether or not the euthanasia was needed due to suffering the zoo was unable to alleviate. Just by virtue of the hippo being old is hopefully not the main reason for killing the hippo. I take issue with kidnapping any animal from the wild and putting the animal in a pseudo-natural environment, behind bars and surrounded by concrete. As much as zoos try to replicate a natural environment, I highly doubt that Cleveland was able to replicate Tanzania. Come on now! This hippo was enslaved in a zoo behind bars and should have never been stolen from it’s natural environment in the first place. That is the point!

    • chooey

      I agree with one of your points, it is wrong to take a perfectly healthy animal out of the wild. I think you took a leap assuming this animal was in the wild before the zoo received custody or that because of the time he was just put in captivity for no apparent reason. Despite the articles slant, this animal was well taken care of and no they wouldn’t have “killed” him for his age. His environment was one away from the public eye and included an heated pool. If it was about making money and not protecting him they would have euthanized him the moment he was away from the public.

  • Brit

    Really? “They euthanized him because he was in pain, not eating, and generally suffering from old age…to let him live any longer would have been cruel.”

    Do you have any idea how many elderly HUMANS fit this description? Do we euthanize them? NO! How is it cruel to let him die on his own? Do we not let humans do that? Maybe we should start euthanizing our elderly to avoid having to put them in nursing homes. I mean, they are suffering, right? Isn’t it the humane thing to do just to end it for them?

  • http://www.tinavolpe-writer.com/ Tina Volpe

    They euthanize dogs every day because there are too many and they can’t find enough homes – and cats and farm animals – as long as they are animals, it’s OK to kill them and call it euthanizing. It may be considered humane in some circles, but that isn’t even the point here. The point is this article WAS researched – and that animal should have never been taken from its home in the wild. EVER. Period. Why, so a zoo can make money on their imprisonment?


    WILD ANIMALS DESERVE BETTER – it is their planet too.

    • chooey

      I believe you have a right to believe in whatever philosophy you choose, but not every environment is a cage. Would you call a child taken from an abusive home a prisoner? Is that no different then the argument you have delivered about this hippo? He was taken from a sanctuary to live his life in the zoo and yes at some point he was in the wild but where in your article does it discuss why he was taken in at the safari? To say he belongs in the wild and if he can’t survives he belongs dead is disgusting. If we humans can do anything right on this earth it is to protect that which we can protect!

  • http://www.tinavolpe-writer.com/ Tina Volpe

    pseudo-intelligent? So the only argument you have is to insult the deliverer of this message? Could it be because you know there isn’t another argument for imprisoning a wild animal against its will ??

    Btw – my I.Q is way above average.

  • chooey

    Despite the AR spin intention with this article, it does prove one thing. This was a well taken care of loved animal. Despite the suggestion which we have all read as invalid this animals keepers likely had a hard time with the decision to put him to sleep. What organization would invest so much money in an animal to choose to just let him go if there was another option. He was moved from the public eye and placed in an environment he would not have found in the wild, given a heated pool to help with his ailing body, there is no question why he lived so long!

  • Meghan

    Could this article be any more biased?! The author of this article should never call themselves a journalist. The title itself leads the reader down a certain thought path. When my beloved family pet collapsed in her old age, my parents decided to have her humanely euthanized so she wouldn’t suffer. You quote ‘Born Free’ which is clearly an animal activist group in an article about the euthanization of a beloved zoo animal. This animal could have been in pain and unable to eat, yet you merely talk about ‘age related issues’ and lead the reader down the path that something unforgivable has happened. What has happened to good and unbiased journalism in this country?

    RIP Blackie! And thoughts to the zoo, the keepers, and all that loved him!

  • David

    The reality is that wild and free is a pipe dream because we can’t control people. Without appropriate care in captivity we’re going to loose a lot of animals. “Born Free” and all the other AR idiots are part of the problem with true conservation.

  • Becky

    I have often visited the Cleveland Zoo, living only 30 minutes away. It is an impressive zoo to say the least. It is my personal life goal to visit at least one zoo in every state, provided they have a zoo. Zoos have many conservation efforts to save animals and teach the public about why they need to be saved. The author obviously has not done research on this subject before she went off on a wild tangent against zoos.

  • John

    Sometimes I wish we were allowed to euthanize people too.

  • Sue deBrouwer

    To all the visitors and keepers at the zoo, I want to say how sorry I am to know we lost another animal that in the wild, would have died so much sooner. We should be proud of Blackie, Timmy, Charlie, and many others . We remember them as kids and shared the same love of these animals with our children. I’m proud of our zoo, the keepers and you Cleveland. You all make our zoo magical, fun and feel like we’re family.
    Sue deBrouwer