hippopotamus. Image/AFP News RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP News

In an unfortunate incident, a zookeeper in India died after being attacked by a hippopotamus while clearing its cage.

The incident occurred on Monday morning at the Wajid Ali Shah Zoological Garden in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.

The 40-year-old employee, Suraj Dhanuk, was pronounced dead at the scene. Another worker also sustained injuries in the attack. He is undergoing treatment at a local hospital.

According to local media reports, the hippo had just been moved from Kanpur to the zoo in Lucknow. It was supposed to be in a locked cage while the cleaning work was being carried out; however, it somehow managed to escape and attack the zookeeper.

Dhanuk had been an employee at the zoo for 12 years and has been survived by his wife and two children.

Meanwhile, the zoo authorities have launched an inquiry into the matter. "It would be part of inquiry to find why the animal was not confined in a portion of the cage when the two employees entered," said Zoo director Aditi Sharma.

"Visibly, the injury marks could not tell us how he died. A detailed post-mortem examination might tell us more," she added. However, the police have not yet filed a case.

Hippos may look placid, but they are known for their grumpy nature. They have a ferocious charge, can reach speeds of up to 20mph (32 kph), and are renowned as one of the most dangerous animals in Africa.

The latest incident comes weeks after another zookeeper was mauled to death by a Himalayan black bear at a zoo in Vizianagaram district.

In this case, the animal keeper had entered the bear enclosure to clean it. The victim had accidentally left the bear's cage door open while he was cleaning the enclosure.

"It happened due to the keeper's negligence, as he deviated from established protocols. He should have ensured that the doors were promptly closed and locked. The animal keepers are usually vigilant, but this was a rare occurrence," the zoo curator told The Times of India.

A similar incident was reported in Kenya in 2020, when a hippo mauled a child to death. The large animal reportedly grabbed the child from the shore of Lake Victoria in Homa Bay County.

The animal eventually released the child. However, he succumbed to his injuries. The ordeal, which lasted several minutes, saw the victim of the animal attack being tossed around. The animal also held the helpless boy under the water for some time.

Eventually, the animal released the child and moved away from the area. By the time he was released, the child had been too severely injured to have survived. The body was later recovered from the lake.