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Saying goodbye to Gertie, elderly zoo hippo

Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo euthanized Gertie, a 47-year-old female hippopotamus, late yesterday, “due to physical decline from age-related osteoarthritis.”

Despite medication, the geriatric hippo experienced intense generalized lameness, which seriously affected her mobility and compromised the quality of her life, the zoo said in information with the release of this photograph.


Photo by Mat Hayward

“Gertie, who weighed approximately 5,000 pounds, has lived at the zoo since 1966. She was the oldest animal currently living at the zoo and is believed to have lived at the zoo longer than any animal in its 110-year history,” the zoo said in its statement.

Two female hippos remain at the zoo’s African Savanna exhibit: 31-year-old Water Lily and 10-year-old Guadalupe.

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According to Darin Collins, the zoo’s director of Animal Health, the hippo’s health had been in age-related decline for the last year from osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease, “not uncommon in geriatric animals, including humans.”

During the past few months, the zoo’s animal management and animal health staff had been closely monitoring Gertie’s mobility, condition and pain levels, the zoo added. “Her condition worsened significantly in the last week as her mobility became challenging and discomfort more apparent,” the zoo said.

“We could no longer medically manage her pain and we had to follow her cue that the quality of her life was becoming seriously compromised,” Collins said. “Therefore, we had to make the difficult, but humane, decision to euthanize her.”

Hippos can live up to 49 years in zoos due to the evolving field of medical science and animal care including optimal nutrition, enriched physical/mental stimulation and preventive medicine, including regular examinations, vaccinations, diagnostics and treatments, the zoo said. 

“For more than 44 years, Gertie has delighted zoo visitors of all ages and helped teach them about these impressive animals. You could truly say she was an icon at the zoo. It is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to Gertie,” said Martin Ramirez, mammal curator at the zoo.

“This is a very difficult time for our staff. No matter how much we try to prepare ourselves for losing an animal we’ve cared for, it’s never easy. She had a long and active life, and her old age is a strong testament to the excellent care she received during her time here at the zoo. We know our zoo family and our community will miss seeing Gertie swimming in the pool, grazing on the lawn or chomping on pumpkins during the zoo’s popular, annual Pumpkin Bash,” Ramirez said.

Hippos live in western, central, eastern and southern parts of Africa, and are one of the most iconographic species on the African savanna, the zoo said.

“Excellent swimmers, they prefer to amble along the bottom of slow-moving or stagnant water. An adult hippo can stay under water for up to five minutes. Hippopotamuses are listed as a vulnerable species, primarily because humans have excessively hunted hippos for their meat, fat, ivory teeth and hides.”