San Diego Zoo was a scene of horror and sadness yesterday when Alex Cripley, 3, managed to squeeze through bars of the Hungry Hippo enclosure to retrieve his ball.

The gruesome moment when Kenny, one of the Hungry Hippos, rushed towards the child, was captured by an onlooker with a smartphone – just before those powerful artificial jaws clamped down on both boy and ball, swallowing them whole.

The thing about Hungry Hippos,” said zoo keeper Billy Ryman, “is that they’re always hungry. You’d have to say the word ‘hungry’ twice just to get across the full scale of the hunger we’re dealing with here.”

They see something that moves, especially something that looks like a great big marble, and – blam! – they’re gonna eat it and whatever’s holding onto it.”

Kenny was immediately sedated.

He has been moved to the scoring tray,” Mr. Ryman continued, “Now it’s just a waiting game.”

A big guy like Kenny can hold marbles for up to 18 hours before defecating them into the tray. Let’s just hope that kid can tough it out in there.”

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