This week devastating news has been reported, that a male hippopotamus called Ernie, died at Dublin Zoo after being transferred from West Midlands Safari Park (WSMP) only a few weeks ago, at the end of April 2024. 

Currently, Ernie’s cause of death is unknown, and due to the secrecy surrounding zoo deaths, we may never gain concrete evidence as to what happened to him. 

Freedom for Animals has long campaigned against zoos, and highlighted the exploitative and destructive ways they use animals for profit and entertainment. It is commonplace in the industry for animals to be traded with other zoos like “stock”, to both ensure a constant supply of baby animals by moving breeding individuals around, and to increase ticket sales with new residents gaining media attention for zoos.

In regards to Ernie’s sad story, we have received a whistleblower report from someone who has been involved with WMSP, and who has insider knowledge on his devastating reality whilst living at the zoo.

The anonymous source states:

“In light of recent news I'm hoping my personal knowledge about Ernie the hippo will help shed light on his true story.

When Ernie came to West Midlands Safari Park (WMSP) he was beautiful and unscathed, yet very soon after arriving, he was forcibly put in with the female group at the zoo, rather than slowly being introduced. Ernie was sadly beaten up by the group and had to be removed and put by himself in isolation. 

Many staff members raised concerns at the time, over how the introduction of Ernie was handled. They knew Ernie's history and that he had not been brought up with a big group of hippos as he would have in the wild, and so wouldn't have learnt how to fend for himself properly.

Over the years his cuts healed and they scarred over, but he was kept on his own for most of his life at WMSP. 

Over the winters and every night throughout the year, he was kept inside, alone in his enclosure. Due to him being separated from the group, he could only have access to one of the pens. This enclosure only had enough room for him to turn around, but nowhere to walk, and at any one point there was only a few meters between himself and the walls.

He was only with other hippos for around three months; the rest of the time he was completely alone.

Once, they attempted to put him with another hippo and it was initially going really well. The management then decided that the two hippos were 'surviving' rather than 'thriving', and decided to put the original hippo back with the main group, so Ernie was once again by himself. 

There was talk of Ernie going to various other zoos, but these kept falling through. Dublin Zoo was discussed on many occasions, however keepers were initially told this might not go through due to WMSP being unable to get the correct tests for Ireland. Throughout the last 6 months of Ernie's life, there was a lot of talk of Ernie being put to sleep, despite him being a perfectly healthy hippo.

Many of the keepers put their complaints towards management regarding Ernie’s situation, and repeatedly fought for his life. It was devastating to watch him go over to the wall in the water to try and interact with the hippos on the other side, never being able to reach them. He was left to circle his empty pool alone.

It appears that around the end of April the trade with Dublin Zoo finally went through, and Ernie was transferred there. So to hear he has now passed away just a few weeks afterwards, is devastating. While the cause of death has not yet been confirmed by the zoo, it was clear that he had endured many unnecessary and preventable stresses, such as his unnatural forced isolation for many years, and being moved to a new and unknown environment alone, and so there is every reason to believe that these were contributing factors to his untimely end. 

Since hearing the terrible announcement of his death, I wanted to share the truth of his story, and bring his reality to light".

Ernie sadly joins a long list of animals who have suffered at the hands of the zoo industry, many of whom have already lost their lives. 

You can help animals in zoos by sharing their stories, taking action on our active campaigns, donating to fund our investigations, and pledging to never visit a zoo.