As many of you have seen from the numerous social media pics and videos, Fiona and Bibi have been doing great together! The speed and fluidity with which the two have developed their bond has been hugely beneficial to Fiona’s mental, social and physical well-being. Bibi has astounded our care team with her patience, tolerance and attentiveness towards Fiona. She has demonstrated a very real understanding that Fiona is a baby and must be interacted with and handled in a gentle way, a stark contrast to some of her interactions with Henry! Since Fiona spent so much of the beginning of her life in the care of humans, we don’t know if Bibi and Fiona understand that they are mother and daughter, however their fondness for each other cannot be denied and Bibi has definitely taken on the roll of mentor to our little hippo baby. Both genuinely seem to enjoy their mouthy and slobbery interactions, and Bibi seems intent on teaching Fiona how to behave like a proper hippo, even gently disciplining Fiona when necessary. When the two went outside together for the first time, we watched in amusement as Bibi attempted unsuccessfully to keep Fiona safely in the shallow ends of the exhibit pool, ultimately giving up and embracing Fiona’s willful independence (just like the rest of the human care team have learned to do!).
While BiFi have been getting the majority of the social media attention, there is another relationship being established quietly behind the scenes. In contrast to our initial predictions and expectations, Henry and Fiona have been having a harder time getting comfortable with one another. We have followed essentially the exact same introduction process that we used with BiFi. First Henry and Fiona were spending time next door to each other in the howdy set-up with a protective barrier in place to ensure the safety of both. The gaps between the bollards allowed the two to get nose-to-nose, sniffing, nuzzling and even licking each other to build familiarity and comfort. After several weeks of observed positive interactions during that time, we felt comfortable and ready to move on to the next step, creeping the doors open and allowing Fiona to enter Henry’s stall when she felt ready.
At this point, it feels very much like Henry is tolerant of Fiona, but he is still a little uncertain about their relationship and how they should interact with each other. Moving forward, there are a number of variables that keeper staff can adjust to see if it helps Henry and Fiona develop a more comfortable relationship, including adding Bibi to the equation and allowing all 3 to interact simultaneously. (This of course is the ultimate end goal: all 3 hippos spending the majority of their time together in a shared space.) With Bibi added to the equation, she might model appropriate interactions for Henry and make him feel more at ease about Fiona. And there’s also a chance that she will help establish the relationship between Henry and Fiona by intervening and defending Fiona if Henry is out of line. However, Henry has developed quite the codependency on Bibi over the last year, and he may not like the idea of sharing his “Bibi time” with Fiona, possibly creating even more tension between the two.