Fiona, the Hippo born six weeks prematurely at the Cincinnati Zoo, is making steady progress under the watchful eyes of her care team. Fans around the world follow Fiona’s journey toward health and independence, and she has become an internet sensation.
You first learned of Fiona’s premature birth here on ZooBorns. Because Fiona was born early, she was unable to stand on her own and nurse like a full-term baby would. As a result, her mother, Bibi, was not able to provide care. That’s when zoo keepers stepped in to assist the baby, who weighed 29 pounds – less than half the weight of a normal newborn Hippo.
Since then, keepers have helped Fiona overcome many developmental hurdles, including learning to walk, swim, and nurse. Fiona now weights 150 pounds, and drinks more than 2.5 gallons of formula per day.
Fiona is now mastering the art of navigating deeper waters. Hippos don’t actually swim – they float, sink, and push off the bottom with their feet, breaking the surface to take in a breath of air. So far, Fiona has been swimming in “kiddie pools” of increasing depth. Last week, zoo keepers introduced Fiona to the indoor pools used by her parents. The water levels will be gradually increased as Fiona becomes more confident.
The most common question asked of zoo keepers is “When will Fiona be reunited with her parents?” The zoo staff explains that this is a gradual process that depends entirely on the Hippos’ reaction to each other. Because Fiona and her mother Bibi were not together during the first two weeks of Fiona’s life, they did not form a strong natural bond and Bibi likely does not recognize Fiona as her offspring. That doesn't mean that Henry and Bibi will not accept Fiona into the bloat (as a group of Hippos is called). But introducing a 150-pound baby to two adults who weigh more than 3,000 pounds each will be approached carefully.
For now, zoo keepers allow Fiona to interact with her parents across a wire mesh barrier. The Hippos' reactions have ranged from curiosity to indifference. The staff expects the introduction process to be slow and completely guided by concerns for Fiona’s health and well-being.