Fiona the hippo has come a long way from her six-weeks premature birth and previous need of round-the-clock care. Throughout her journey from newborn to curious calf, she has shown amazing strength. Now she is taking that bravery to a new setting and a new audience.
The keepers at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden are starting to introduce the four-month-old to her outdoor habitat. Fiona has been adjusting to the exciting, expansive and water-filled digs after hours. Members of the press recently got a peek at the baby hippo on one of these outings, but she’s not ready for her public debut quite yet.
“There’s a lot to get used to in the great outdoors,” Christina Gorsuch, curator of mammals at the Cincinnati Zoo, said in a statement. “She has to learn that sand is not food and that you can see faces on the other side of a strange, hard surface that you can’t get through (glass).”
Fiona’s devoted caretakers are helping her with these baby steps towards independence. During outdoor habitat exploration, they stand on the other side of the glass, encouraging the little hippo, so she can get used to the faces of her adoring public that will soon fill the other side of her exhibit. Keepers are also stationed in the habitat’s 9-foot-deep pool, to make sure Fiona has the energy to keep propelling herself to the surface to breathe.
REALTED: Premature Baby Hippo ‘Fiona’ Stands and Walks for First Time at Cincinnati Zoo
Usually this is a job the hippo parents handle, but since Fiona was born premature, weighing only 29 pounds, and couldn’t stand to nurse on her own, zoo caretakers had to step in. Along with her new habitat, Fiona is also being introduced to her parents.
“Introductions to her parents are going well, but we have to take things slowly because of Fiona’s size,” said Gorsuch. “Bibi and Henry each weigh more than 3,000 pounds, and Fiona is at about 275 today. She’s a tough little hippo, but she needs to be able to handle an accidental flick of the head from the adults.”
The keepers seem confident that Fiona will continue to excel and impress, as she has done since day one. As soon as she is able to spend longer periods in her outdoor habitat and is fully comfortable with the extra stimuli it provides, she will be ready to meet all the curious people who have been waiting months to see her.