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A beloved hippopotamus called Maikel died an agonising death in a zoo in Germany after a visitor threw a tennis ball into his enclosure that he mistook for an apple. Maikel, 39, wolfed the ball down only to die four days later with his bowel blocked up.  Zoo staff said he was in acute agony before his death and had no clue as to what he was suffering from.

He was voted the favourite animal in the zoo by visitors last year and delighted children especially with his gentle nature and graceful swimming. ‘He was in the best of health and we were frankly baffled,’ said Professor Manfred Niekisch, director of Frankfurt Zoo.

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