When the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens learned one of their Nile hippos was pregnant, staff and researchers were thrilled. In early January, the first-ever ultrasound of a Nile hippo fetus confirmed that the mother, 17-year-old Bibi, was going to give birth, the expected happy date sometime in March.
But on Jan. 24, Bibi gave birth six weeks prematurely. Her calf, named Fiona, weighed just 29 pounds, a dangerously low birth weight for a baby hippo, which typically come in closer to between 55 and 100 pounds. Fiona required special, around-the-clock care.
Now, months later, Fiona is thriving—she recently weighed in at more than 300 pounds—and is being acclimated to the presence of humans.
As seen in video above from the zoo, a feisty Fiona first greets tentatively, then frolics with human divers. Having been reared in special indoor pools, the zoo wants to her to get used to the tanks, flippers and bubbles from the diver’s equipment, as they will accompany her on her first trips to the outdoor pools at the zoo. You can see her practicing bouncing off the bottom of the pool to reach the surface and breathe, as well as testing that impressive and characteristic hippo yawn—jaws that open wide to 150 degrees. In the wild, those wide jaws, armed with teeth and tusks and propelled by an aggressive territoriality, lead hippos to kill anywhere between 500 and 3,000 people annually in Africa, or more than any single disease save malaria.
But for Fiona, for now, it’s simply playtime at the zoo.