Toni Inggs was Prince Harry's 'mother' and caregiver. Picture: CANGO WILDLIFE RANCH

He lived, he loved and for two months he basked in the adoration of people the world over. Sadly, Prince Harry, the pygmy hippo at the Cango Wildlife Ranch in Oudtshoorn, is no more.

Cango Wildlife Ranch staff are in shock after Prince Harry died unexpectedly during a routine operation on Wednesday morning, said the ranch’s spokeswoman, Tammy Moult.

Harry was named after Prince Harry of Wales for his true grit and spirit.

Since his birth on March 22, he has captured and warmed the hearts of many across the world.

“Harry became an overnight sensation due to his beautiful nature and too-cute-for-words little face. He has generated a genuine worldwide interest.

“In his short life, he has managed to raise much-needed awareness for his species and their plight in the wild, and Cango Wildlife Ranch will continue to fly the flag of awareness for this species in his honour,” said Moult.

Prince Harry was operated on at about 10.30am yesterday to repair an umbilical hernia. If not removed it had the potential to cause gut strangulation.

“We received expert advice that it was better for him to get the operation done while he was still young. An hour into the operation while under anaesthesia, he went into respiratory arrest and ultimately died of heart failure. They tried numerous times to resuscitate him, but he never woke up. It was a routine procedure and we didn’t expect him to die… but these things happen. Our hearts are breaking.”

Moult said Toni Inggs, Harry’s caregiver who had been responsible for the pint-sized hippo since his birth, had taken leave from work because she was traumatised by Harry’s death.

Harry had to be hand-reared by Inggs after his mother, Hilda, refused to feed him. He was raised with cow milk which has similar nutritional value to Hilda’s natural colostrum milk.

“Inggs and Harry were inseparable from day one. She was responsible for feeding, bathing and training Harry… she was like a mother to him as he required an around-the-clock routine,” said Moult.

Harry needed five feeds of about two litres of a mixture of milk and water a day every three hours. Straight after feeding he was given a warm bath to keep his skin moist. He stayed in a special heat-controlled room where he enjoyed cuddling up with his blanket.

At birth, baby Harry tipped the scales at a healthy 5.1kg. He died weighing 13kg.

Moult said they had planned to re-unite Harry with Hilda after winter when he was stronger and bigger.

“Although he had a very rocky start in life after being rejected by his mom, all stops were pulled out to make sure that this little superstar had a chance at life.

“He was a very intelligent happy hippo and brought so much joy to the ranch. We and everybody who had the pleasure of meeting him are going to miss him a lot.”

Pygmy hippos are rare and it is believed there are only 3 000 left in the wild as they have been threatened by the bush meat trade. They are found in West Africa, particularly Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast.

Moult said Harry would be cremated soon and a memorial service would be held in his honour in the next few days. A shrine at the ranch would be erected to display his ashes and commemorate his short life. - Cape Argus

Harry’s timeline

* March 22: Prince Harry is born weighing a healthy 5.1kg at the Cango Wildlife Ranch in Oudtshoorn.

* At birth, Harry was rejected by his mother after she battled to produce colostrum, the milk containing the antibodies needed to protect newborns against disease.

* March 28: Harry appears on the front of the Cape Argus.

* May 1: Finance, Economic Development and Tourism MEC Alan Winde and his family visit Prince Harry, and meet his parents, Herbert and Hilda.

* May 9: Harry dies during surgery.