The Virginia Zoo’s only hippopotamus died of a bowel obstruction caused by a racquetball that a visitor had apparently thrown into the animal’s pen.
Nyla died at 31 on Sunday after a monthlong illness. The exact cause was unknown until an autopsy revealed the 2-inch rubber ball lodged in her small intestine, a passage about the size of a quarter in diameter.
Zookeepers had known the 4,300-pound hippo was suffering from some kind of blockage but decided against surgery, which can kill such a large animal.
Signs instruct visitors not to throw food or other objects into the enclosures.