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A baby Nile Hippopotamus arrived six weeks ahead of schedule at the Cincinnati Zoo, and the staff is now providing critical care for the premature calf, which is the first to be born at the zoo in 75 years.

Seventeen-year-old Hippo Bibi gave birth on January 24 but the calf, a female, was not expected until March.  Because the premature calf was unable to stand and nurse from Bibi, the veterinary staff moved the baby to the zoo’s nursery where she can receive around-the-clock care. Hippos are pregnant for about 243 days.

Hippo_pool-5Photo Credit:  Cincinnati Zoo

When the baby was two days old, staff placed her in a shallow pool.  The pool time will help her build strength and gain balance, and help to maintain an optimal body temperature of 96-98 degrees.  Most baby Hippos are born in the water, but they can't swim.

“We are giving her fluids and keeping her moist and warm,” said Christina Gorsuch, curator of mammals at the Cincinnati Zoo. “Her little system is underdeveloped, and getting her to a healthy weight will be a challenge. Vets and animal staff are doing everything they can to get her through this critical time.”

You can find daily updates from the Cincinnati Zoo about the baby, which has been named Fiona, here.

The baby weighs 29 pounds, which is about 25 pounds lighter than the lowest recorded birth weight for this species.  The normal range for newborn Hippos is 55-120 pounds. “She looks like a normal calf but is very, very small. Her heart and lungs sound good and she is pretty responsive to stimuli, but we aren’t sure how developed her muscles and brain are,” said Gorsuch.  Adult Hippos weigh one-and-a-half to two tons.

When Bibi showed signs of labor, zoo staff performed an ultrasound that showed a major shift in the baby and confirmed that it was on the way.  During the procedure, keepers were able to collect milk from her.

“We’re hoping to get the baby to drink Bibi’s milk and other supplements from a bottle. We’ll continue to milk Bibi so we can provide these important nutrients to the baby and also stimulate production so she’s ready to nurse when the baby is strong enough to be back with mom,” said Gorsuch.

Vets and animal care staff are providing round-the-clock intensive care for the baby in close proximity to Bibi and Henry, the 35-year-old father of the calf.  The team is not sure how long it will take to get the premature calf on her feet.  That developmental milestone must be reached before she can be reunited with Bibi.

This baby made history in utero when zoo scientists captured the first ever ultrasound image of a Nile Hippo fetus earlier this month, confirming that Bibi was pregnant.