Otis, 45-year-old hippo who went viral with his giant grin, dies at San Diego Zoo

Otis the hippo opens his mouth at the San Diego Zoo.
Otis the hippo at the San Diego Zoo.
(Ken Bohn / San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance)

Otis, a 45-year-old male river hippo who had become a family favorite at San Diego Zoo, died this week, officials said.

Otis had been suffering from a degenerative disease that affected his spine and joints. His condition worsened over the weekend, and zoo staff euthanized the hippo Sunday to spare him further suffering.

“Otis will be greatly missed by wildlife care staff, veterinarians, volunteers and guests,” the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance said in a tweet. “Please take a moment to offer your condolences to all those who are feeling this loss.”


The news triggered an outpouring of grief from those who fondly remembered seeing the hippo over the years.

“Many happy moments have been spent watching him bob around in his pool. RIP Otis. My heart goes out to his keepers,” one user tweeted.

Others recalled seeing the 4,500-pound hippo crush cabbages and other food between his powerful jaws. And in 2010, a photo of Otis went viral after an Arkansas couple snapped a shot of him with his teeth showing in what looked like a giant grin.

When San Diego Zoo’s Otis grinned his way to fame

Aug. 5, 2016

Otis, who was born in the wild in East Africa, was transferred from the Los Angeles Zoo to San Diego in 2009 to breed with Funani, a female. When they first met, the two hippos nuzzled noses underwater for a few minutes before tussling for dominance.

It didn’t take long for them to warm up to each other. In 2011, Funani gave birth to newborn male calf Adhama while about 100 onlookers cheered and shouted “push” to encourage the 26-year-old mother.


They’re handing out cigars at the San Diego Zoo today.

Jan. 26, 2011

Adhama, who was later transported to the Dallas Zoo, died at the age of 7, and another calf sired by Otis died less than a week after birth.

But Funani and Otis went on to produce three other calves in 2015, 2017 and 2020. The most recent one, Amahle, lives in the zoo’s Lost Forest exhibit alongside her mother.