Gustavito, a 15-year-old much-loved hippopotamus, was killed following a brutal attack over the weekend in the national zoo of El Salvador. The animal died from his injuries late on Sunday (27 February).

Unknown assailants are believed to have sneaked into the zoo at night over the weekend and brutally assaulted the animal with sharp weapons and blunt tools.

The following morning, zookeepers found Gustavito refusing to eat and unwilling to come out of the pool in his enclosure. The zoo's veterinarians found lacerations on the hippo's neck and face. Gustavito was "clearly in great distress", BBC reported.

His condition worsened on Sunday and he died late that night. Officials have described the attack as a "cowardly and inhumane attack".

Salvadorans have taken to social media to show their disgust and sadness over the incident. Others have simply posted: "Forgive us Gustavito."

BBC's Central America reporter Will Grant noted that the extreme cruelty inflicted on Gustavito has angered and upset Salvadorans, despite the fact that murder in itself has "long lost the capacity to shock" in the country.

El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world, according to the United Nations. About 10 people have been murdered per day so far in 2017, with most of the violence caused by criminal gangs, reports the BBC.