Tributes roll in for hippo with 'big character' who has died at Longleat

Sonia passed away peacefully at the age of 49. Credit: Longleat

Tributes are rolling in for Sonia the hippopotamus, a veteran at Longleat Safari Park, who has died aged 49.

A "big character" at the Wiltshire attraction, Sonia moved into Half Mile Lake in 1976 and became a firm favourite with guests on the Boat Safari.

Longleat said she would be deeply missed by her keepers, some of whom have been looking after her for more than 40 years.

Fellow hippo Spot appears to be doing well, despite losing her friend, and the animal team is keeping an eye on her.

Sonia made history a few years ago when she became the first hippo to share UK waters with beavers in 100,000 years - not to mention the Californian sea lions who live there too.

Visitors even spotted some of the young sea lion pups jumping onto the hippos’ backs as a sort of game. 

Half Mile Lake is an artificial water feature that was dug by hand in the 18th century. It was designed by Capability Brown, England's greatest landscape gardener.

In 1804 it was further modified by garden designer Humphrey Repton, who also created the artificial island at the centre of the lake.

Sonia lived in one of the biggest areas for hippos in the UK, including the free run of Half Mile Lake and large accompanying paddock. 

Longleat has encouraged people to share their memories and photos of Sonia, to celebrate her memory.