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John Ball Zoo pygmy hippo attacks, kills sitatunga ahead of exhibit opening

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Posted at 6:29 PM, May 16, 2023

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Chopper, a male sitatunga and new addition to John Ball Zoo, died suddenly Tuesday when the zoo’s new pygmy hippo, Jahari, attacked and killed him.

John Ball Zoo made the announcement Tuesday evening.

Chopper was supposed to be part of the zoo’s new multi-species habitat featuring pygmy hippos.

Jahari

The zoo says staff members completed successful visual introductions between Chopper and Jahari over the last month.

When trained animal care staff tried a controlled introduction Tuesday, they say Jahari attacked Chopper suddenly.

“This sad incident reminds us that despite enormous cautionary measures taken by zoo staff over the last several weeks, the behavior of wild animals can be unpredictable,” Peter D’Arienzo, John Ball Zoo’s CEO, said.

Zoo staff separated the two animals immediately.

They tried to save Chopper, but efforts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.

Chopper

“At John Ball Zoo, providing world-class care for our animals is our number one priority, and we are deeply saddened by the loss of Chopper, who was loved by all the staff that cared for him and who are today grieving this loss,” D’Arienzo added.

The zoo says it will complete a full review of the incident, consistent with its animal care protocols and procedures.

This tragedy comes ahead of “Hippopalooza” which is scheduled to run Friday, June 2 through Sunday, June 4.

The three-day event aims to celebrate the opening of the zoo’s new, state-of-the-art pygmy hippo exhibit with live music, animal activities and specialty food.

Here's the full statement issued by the John Ball Zoo Tuesday night.

John Ball Zoo is deeply saddened to announce our male sitatunga, Chopper, died Tuesday. Chopper was slated to be part of our new multi-species habitat, featuring pygmy hippos. After successful visual introductions between Chopper and the pygmy hippo throughout the last month, trained animal care staff were attempting a controlled introduction of our pygmy hippo with Chopper inside their habitat when the pygmy hippo suddenly attacked Chopper. Zoo staff separated the animals immediately. Our animal care team provided emergency care, but efforts to resuscitate Chopper were unsuccessful. Consistent with our animal care protocols and procedures, a full review of the incident is underway. The Zoo has successfully introduced species many times, and our staff was thoroughly prepared for this introduction. This sad incident reminds us that despite enormous cautionary measures taken by Zoo staff over the last several weeks, the behavior of wild animals can be unpredictable. At John Ball Zoo, providing world-class care for our animals is our number one priority, and we are deeply saddened by the loss of Chopper, who was loved by all the staff that cared for him and who are today grieving this loss.


Peter D'Arienzo, CEO of John Ball Zoo

FOX 17 spoke with an expert who says the zoo did everything they could to introduce the animals to each other the right way.

READ MORE: 'These are always wild animals': Expert reacts to sitatunga death at John Ball Zoo

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