January 25, 2022

Fiona the Hippo turned five yesterday (January 24) along with all the fanfare that has marked her life since before birth.  The initial concern of the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden staff was Fiona’s mother Bibi, and it did not appear the calf would survive.  Fiona was born six weeks premature when she arrived in 2017 and only weighed 29 lb (13 kg).  Over the next critical days Fiona captured the attention of Cincinnati and the world.  The zoo’s marketing spokesperson said Fiona symbolizes the perseverance, resilience, and attaining the impossible.  “She is the story of hope.”  Fiona is also a brand, as her image has been attached to cookies, coffee, shirts, mugs, and books.  More than 375,000 books have been sold and given to teachers, children, and parents to spread Fiona’s story of perseverance.  While the zoo does not have a specific accounting of the Fiona commerce, it was thought to be nearly $500,000 by her first birthday. 

When I looked online, I found the hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius), also called the hippo, common hippopotamus, or river hippopotamus, is a large, mostly herbivorous, semiaquatic mammal and ungulate native to sub-Saharan Africa.  It is one of only two extant species in the Hippopotamidae family, the other being the pygmy hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis or Hexaprotodon liberiensis).  The name comes from the ancient Greek for “river horse”.  The hippopotamus is the third-largest land mammal, after the elephant and rhinoceros.  Despite their physical resemblance to pigs the closest living relatives are cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises), from which they diverged about 55 million years ago.  Hippos are recognizable by their barrel-shaped torsos, wide-opening mouths revealing large canine tusks, nearly hairless bodies, columnar legs, and large size.  Adults average 3,310 lb (1,500 kg) for males and 2,870 lb (1,300 kg) for females.  Despite the stocky shape and short legs, hippos can run 19 mph (30 km/h) over short distances.  Fiona is still small, weighing in at 1800 pounds (816.5 kg).

The Cincinnati Zoo held an invitation-only virtual birthday party to celebrate Fiona’s five years.  You could visit the Cincinnati Zoo’s website and a $5 gift gave you a digital thank you card from Fiona, and a chance to win a prize package containing a one-of-a-kind hippo table by Mark Stoddart, an original kiss painting by Fiona, and a copy of “Happy Birthday, Fiona” by Richard Cowdrey.  Fiona received a Cincinnati Reds jersey with her name and the number 5 on the back, although it was too small for her to wear.  The virtual party took place at noon on the 24th with the grand prize winner announced.  I did not win, but then again, I did not buy a ticket.

Thoughts:  When Fiona was born, she was the zoo’s first newborn hippo and the smallest premature hippo to survive in human care.  The name comes from the tiny, fluted ears which resembled those of the “Shrek” heroine.  While hippos are common in zoos, they can become a nuisance in the wild and are among the most dangerous animals in the world due to its highly aggressive and unpredictable nature.  In the late 1980’s, Pablo Escobar kept four hippos in a private zoo at his residence.  They were deemed too difficult to remove after Escobar’s death in 1993 and were left on the untended estate.  By 2007, the animals had multiplied to 16 and had taken to roaming the area for food.  There are still no plans on managing the population.  Scientists say these hippos are breeding voraciously and are an increasing menace.  Introducing invasive species is rarely a good thing.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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