Fiona the Hippo Celebrates Her 5th Birthday and Receives a Special Gift from the Cincinnati Reds

Zoo staff were unsure if the hippo — who was born prematurely on Jan. 24, 2017 — would survive, but five years later, Fiona is thriving

Fiona the Hippo
Photo: facebook; Cincinnati Zoo/DJ Jam Photo

Happy Birthday, Fiona!

Cincinnati Zoo's beloved hippopotamus celebrated her 5th birthday on Monday. In honor of the big day, the Cincinnati Reds gifted Fiona a team baseball jersey — complete with her name and the number 5 embroidered on the back.

The Ohio zoo's staff was unsure if the hippo would survive after being born prematurely on Jan. 24, 2017, but five years later, the animal continues to prove her resilience.

The zoo marked the hippo's birthday with a virtual celebration where Cincinnati Zoo director Thayne Maynard read aloud from the children's book Happy Birthday, Fiona with the star of the story swimming in her tank right beside him.

"It's hard to believe that it's been five years since Fiona was born," Maynard said in a news release. "She has touched so many people with her story of survival and has become a symbol of hope for millions of people around the world."

"Fiona's story tugs at the heartstrings," he added. "She was born premature and too small to stand to nurse from her mom. The zoo's vets and hippo care team stepped in to try to nurse her to health. It was a tough journey. We almost lost her a couple of times, but she made it and eventually rejoined her mom and dad. This 5th birthday is extra special considering her rough start."

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Jenna Wingate, senior keeper and one of Fiona's primary caretakers, told WLWT-TV on Monday that they're still taken aback by how much the public continues to embrace the hippo. "We thought the popularity would die off, but it hasn't, so it's been amazing. We're all so proud of her and excited to continue watching her grow up," Wingate said.

"People are still coming and crying when they see her and doing all sort of things for an opportunity to get a photo with her," Wingate added.

The keeper continued that the hippo serves as an inspiration to many. "People tell us how she's changed their lives or helped them get through hard times, whether it's their own illness or their child in the NICU because Fiona was in her own little hippo NICU."

Famed English primatologist Jane Goodall sent Fiona birthday wishes as well in a recorded video message.

"I know you had a difficult time coming into the world. Probably your mother did, too. But, thanks to those who care for you in the zoo, here you are — big and strong — and you're such a good-looking hippo, " Goodall, 87, said in the clip.

She continued, "I do hope that you will live a long and happy life and that I'll be able to meet you before too long. Anyway, enjoy your day, I bet you'll be spoiled rotten, and I wish you a happy birthday and raise a glass to you."

Fiona arrived six weeks early to mom Bibi and dad Henry in 2017. The calf was 29 lbs. at birth —around 25 pounds lighter than the lowest recorded weight for the Nile hippo species.

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