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