As many of you know, our sweet male hippo Henry has been having health issues for the last few months and you probably have dozens of questions about what’s been going on. Henry has taken our care team on quite the roller coaster. In this blog, I’ll do my best to fill everyone in on the last few months and what Henry’s immediate future may look like.
Midway through July, #TeamFiona was absolutely ecstatic to be celebrating the reunion of our hippo bloat! We had finally put all 3 hippos together outside for the first time and after some initial coaching from Bibi, Henry and Fiona had finally found a rhythm with each other and seemed to be hitting it off. All three hippos would go outside together and spend the majority of their days napping on top of each other, just like any other hippo bloat. It was the fairytale ending that we had all hoped and dreamed of for Fiona and it felt like we could finally breathe a sigh of relief and take a moment to celebrate what an amazing success story Fiona’s life had become. But sadly, our euphoria was short-lived. Henry began to lose his appetite for no apparent reason and his stool output was not normal (diarrhea).
On the surface, a decrease in appetite (and subsequent decrease in defecation) isn’t necessarily a reason for alarm and any number of issues could have been the cause. Looking through his records from Dickerson Park, we learned that in the past, Henry had occasional bouts of decreased appetite, but that he always seemed to come back around to his old self within a week or two. At 3650lbs, Henry was at his highest weight since arriving in Cincinnati so we weren’t terribly concerned about him skipping a meal or two. Additionally, hippos are notoriously hardy animals that often thrive under human care, so our panic level was pretty low and we felt confident that we could help Henry overcome this minor health hiccup. The bigger concern at the time was actually whether or not Henry’s affliction might be contagious.
At this same time, Fiona was tipping the scales at a whopping 370lbs, and she had been certifiably healthy for weeks. But the compromised immune system of a preemie might have a hard time fighting off even the smallest infection, so Henry had to be quarantined away from Bibi and Fiona until we could be certain that whatever was causing his decreased appetite was not something that could be transmitted to the hippo girls. The entire hippo building was sanitized, top to bottom, and Henry moved into the stalls across the hallway so that he would not be in direct contact with the girls. Fecal samples were collected from Henry, and our veterinary staff prescribed pain medicine and antibiotics which Henry took orally mixed with applesauce and beet pulp. His interest in food was limited and he became pickier and pickier about what he would eat. Sometimes he would sample a food item and go as far as chewing it up, only to spit it out on the floor instead of swallowing it. We tried offering different kinds of hay grown from different farms and we gave Henry a variety of produce items (including all of his favorites like watermelon and collard greens) to encourage him to eat. Probiotics were added to his diet to provide him with good bacteria and yeasts that would promote gut health, and additional medicines were prescribed to treat and prevent stomach ulcers in case that was the culprit. Our veterinary, nutrition and care teams were attacking this ailment from every angle and with every bit as much tenacity as we had dealt with Fiona’s myriad of health problems. As one zoo guest commented on Facebook, “After Fiona, treating Henry should be a walk in the (zoological) park!”, and we felt the same way.
When Henry’s fecal tests all came back negative, we knew that whatever was affecting Henry was not contagious and could not be transmitted to Bibi or Fiona, so we resumed managing the hippos as a bloat of three. With a number of possible causes now ruled out, we began considering other less likely and more abstract sources. We considered tooth, tongue and throat issues, but nothing seemed to be abnormal when Henry would open wide and allow us to investigate his mouth. And the selective and inconsistent patterns of food consumption made it all the more puzzling. Some days he would eat a food item in bulk and then completely lose interest in it, opting for something different a few days later. Aside from the eating issues, Henry seemed to be himself in almost every other capacity. He was alert and interactive with keeper staff and still dutifully following Bibi around like a lost puppy. Fiona was a bit too playful for him at times but the majority of the time, all three hippos would spend an entire day napping together peacefully under the waterfall. It was confusing and frustrating, but we limped along offering different food options, taking notes, medicating, and trying to figure out why Henry had become such a picky eater.
From mid-August to mid-September, Henry showed slow but consistent improvement and was doing well enough that we began to transition him very slowly back to his normal diet and routine. All the specialty food items that had been added to encourage his appetite were gradually being phased back out, the supportive medicines were being reduced and we had begun to ease him back outside during the day with Bibi and Fiona. It appeared as though Henry was on the mend and we were cautiously optimistic that the worst was behind us.
But towards the end of September, Henry’s appetite and eating habits inexplicably began to deteriorate once again. We did an about-face and reintroduced all of the supportive elements that seemed to help the first time around, but Henry continued to decline. He became pickier and pickier until he was barely eating anything and he began losing weight. Additionally, he became more lethargic and less interactive with keeper staff and even his interactions with Bibi and Fiona diminished. In mid-October, with few options remaining, we decided to anesthetize Henry so that our veterinary staff could safely conduct a full and thorough physical exam to try and determine the cause of the mystery illness.
Anesthetizing an animal for a procedure is always risky, even when the animal is in perfect health, so everyone on the care team was extremely nervous about the procedure. Thankfully, Henry’s exam went relatively smoothly and allowed our vet staff to collect blood and fecal samples, examine Henry from nose to tail (everything seemed to be in good health), administer medications, and even transfer some of Bibi’s healthy gut bacteria into Henry’s stomach (a treatment known as “transfaunation”). At the end of the procedure, Henry rested and recuperated while the care team anxiously awaited the results of the blood work.
Within 24 hours we had our answers. Henry’s white blood cell count revealed that his body was fighting a very serious infection internally. Additionally, and even more worrisome, Henry’s kidneys appeared to be shutting down. We immediately began an aggressive treatment plan focused on getting antibiotics into Henry to help his body battle the infection with the hopes that his kidneys could recover and heal as well. About a week and half later, Henry’s appetite and lethargy had still not improved, despite our best efforts to treat him, so we collected blood again to reassess Henry’s health. This time, our team was shocked but thrilled to see that almost all of Henry’s blood values were within normal ranges! It was encouraging information, but it did not explain why Henry’s behavioral health continued to deteriorate.
Since then, our veterinary, nutrition and care staff have continued to work diligently around the clock to treat Henry, and in theory the treatments should be working. But for whatever reason, Henry’s body is not responding. The median life expectancy for male Nile hippos is 35. At 36 years old, our sweet Henry hippo is already in his golden years, and despite our best efforts, his health and quality of life continue to decrease each day. We’re doing everything we can to keep him comfortable.
As always, our care team is eternally grateful for the endless love and support you’ve shown us and our animals, especially through the toughest of times.
350 thoughts on “Hippo Blog: Helping Henry”
Praying for Henry to recover. Thank you Cincinnati Zoo for keeping us updated. The world has come to love Fiona, Bibi and Henry. So sad. I pray he will get better.
Thank you to the great and dedicated staff. Prayers for Henry and staff.
I have nothing new to add but would like to post a compliment to the keepers. I’m a decent in Philadelphia and New York City. I have seen first hand the love and care that keepers have for their animals. It must be painful to watch Henry’s condition head in the wrong direction. Kudos to his team for all the caring time you put in. Thank you from someone who has read every hippo post since Fiona day 1.
Fiona needs more time with her whole bloat and Henry needs more time on earth. I pray that Henry somehow powers through and feels well again. Thanks, CinZoo for all you do.
As I read your blog the tears are falling from my face.I pray and hope that Henry gets better.His Girls need him❤️God Bless Henry and his Team.
are you saying that Henry may be passing soon? That is so sad and it makes me cry. They are such a sweet family.
I will keep praying for Henry
Aww Henry, we all love you keep fighting and we will keep praying.
Praying for Henry to recover. Love seeing pictures of him with the girls. Keep on fighting Henry.
Thank you for keeping us all updated on Henry’s Heath. We all have grown to Love him, Bibi andFi Fiona very very much.They are very special and very dear to our heart as well as your care team. My wife and I will continue to pray for Henry and his family and the care team. Get better big guy.Praying for you!!!
I am heart sick for the family — Henry, Bibi and Fiona. I am hoping for a miracle….. It’s just too soon…. Special thanks to the Cincinnati Zoo staff — you are all amazing and this must be so difficult for you.
36 years young…. to an amazing Hippo who has brought many smiles to all ages. Thanks and you are in our prayers!
Poor sweet Henry. You have done all you could and more. Henry is very lucky to have such a caring team who love him as well. Love you all.
Poor Henry!! Feel better! A message to the caregivers: you all have done an amazing thing with Fiona & we know you’re doing all you can for Henry. Thanks for all you do.
I find this news as distressing as you do. Though Henry is past middle age, he’s far from old…..its like telling me at 40 that I’m at median age and soon to be in my golden years. Please keep trying. I cant help but feel perhaps the addition of Fiona upset Henry and pyscologically he’s depressed. He does love to be with Bibi.
Oh no, I am so sad to read that Henry is not doing well and is actually at the end of his life expectancy. I am praying for Henry and am so thankful for all Cincinnati Zoo has done for this bloat.
Dear Sweet Henry and all Caregivers: There is never a good way to watch someone you dearly love decline. My heart and prayers are with Henry and all of his Caregivers. Thank you for your love and excellent care
Knowing the loving care that went into the unification of this little hippo family, I am secure in the knowledge that Henry, whatever the outcome, is being treated with tenderness. Best regards to Henry, his little family, and to the team helping Henry at this time
As an ex-animalkeeper I read your excellent article accounting Henry’s handling and think that the zoo staff and others have done an superb job.
A median age means half live less and half live longer. So here’s hoping Henry drags the average upwards!
Continued prayers of comfort for Henry! Still hopeful for a recovery for him, continued prayers and hugs for his care team. So obvious he is so loved by them!
Thank all of you for your diligence in helping Henry. My prayers are with him and also with Bibi and Fiona. I know you are all doing what you can and I am grateful to you all.
Sending prayers for Henry.
Keeping Henry in my prayers. It’s so hard to watch your special friend diminish in health. As I was reading the blog I got a sinking feeling as it sounded so much like our beloved bassett hound who died after kidney failure. Hoping that Bibi and Fiona are not negatively effected if Henry leaves them. Thanks to all the care teams for their unending help with Henry. Believe that we are all beyond appreciation for your dedication.
This is so very sad. I feel so sorry for Bibi and Fiona. I know the staff is doing everything they can. I will continue to think positive for Henry❤️.
Thank you to the care team for taking such great care of our Henry from Dickerson. You’ve made his golden years happy.
Cheers to you all. I am in NY …Your articles are a joy to read. The care for your animals amazing Everything happens for a reason…Hugs to you all
Fight Henry baby!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We love you Henry! Our family is so sad to hear this, the big guy deserves to have more time with his girls. Thank you for doing everything you can for him.
I have felt from the beginning that Henry is depressed. I suffer from the same symthoms as Henry when I am depressed. Lack of appetite, loss of weight, loss of interest in the usual things, and so on. Do they have hippo anti-depressants?
I’m with you Carol!
Prayers and thoughts to Henry, Bibi and Fiona but also all of the remarkable caretakers at the Cincy zoo. Your love and dedication to the animals is so incredibly special and each of you are these hippo’s guardian angles. We all know you are doing everything you care to make Henry as comfortable as possible, thank you for keeping us updated and just know we are all behind you!
Who’d have thought we’d all be so connected to a bloat of hippos??? I never paid this much attention to any zoo animals until Fiona. I’m sad to hear Henry’s sick. My cat has had kidney issues this year and she’s doing well – I hope Henry has a similar strong recovery.
Get well soon, Henry.
Its a real shame that Henry doing well theses days. I guess Fiona and her mother must do some extra work to keep Henry well. I would like to thank the Zoo helpers helping during time on Henry…like Fiona …GOD BLESS YOU ALL~~~~!!!
Sending hugs and love from Henry’s home area, as we are so thankful to the wonderful staff at Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens. While sad, we are so happy that Henry has had a family and many many folks to love him, both on MO and in his new home. Hippo hugs and thank you for keeping us posted.
AND we are not giving up. If you want to, keep fighting Henry!
Praying for Henry and all of you, such a Beautiful Family you all take such good care of them. thank you all for everything you do. We know you are all doing everything you can for him.
I’m with Carol above. I’m sure y’all have thought of this, God knows you’re smarter than I, but his lack of appetite seemed to coincide with the introduction of our dear Fiona to the bloat. As Fiona’s birth circumstances keep him from realizing she is his daughter …. I mean, do hippos even experience jealousy and/or depression and then how (or if) can it be treated? Have you contacted other zoo vets/keepers (such as San Diego) to see if they’ve run up against this with their hippos? All I know FOR SURE is that Henry (nor any of us) could ask for a better or more caring team. You have the nation’s prayers, support and appreciation. ❤️
Thank you fir the updates on Henry. We love oyr hippos. Your team of keepers are deicated and on top of things. Please keep sharing. We will keep praying.
We’re praying for Henry and his humans. May his time left be peaceful and pain free.
Prayers for Henry and all his care givers who I know are so worried.
I’m so sad that Henry is struggling, just when he, Bibbi, and Fiona had finally become a family. I’m still hoping he will get better. Thank you for taking such good care of him.
I can’t say anymore than everyone has already said. We have lived everyday since Fiona was born praying for her and hoping she would make it. Then she did and we have all been so happy that she is now with her mom and dad. The Happy Hippo Bloat! Now that Henry is sick it is hard to fathom that we might loose him. If anyone can make him better it will be the wonderful care team at the Cincinnati Zoo. If it is the end of life for Henry, we will all know that this team did everything in their power to make him better! There is no doubt! Know that we are all praying for Henry and the care team!
Time to start making donations to help pay for all the great extra care Henry is receiving. I’ll call tomorrow and make a donation. Carol
Hopefully with time, love and patience Henry will continue to make a full recovery… we love you Henry, Bibi and Fiona!!!!
Thank you for the update, and thank you, much more, for all you have done for him, and all you are still doing. I send good vibes to all of you as you go through this very hard time, and I hope for the very best possible outcome.
Henry you have given the world the
gift of Fiona who has brightened our
days. What a joy to watch her thrive!
Everyone knows her and loves her.
I really hope you get better, Henry,
but you did a lot for us all!!! We love
you! Thank you for Fiona!
We are all sending healing prayers and warming love to you, Henry, and to Bibi and Fiona!
Henry please get better soon so that you can go back to your family and so that the visitors and staff can also enjoy you too. We know that if Fiona could pull through all she did so can you.
I did cry. for Henry, for Fiona, Bini and for us — we all need more time with this lovely family. But may Henri go in peace.
I did cry. for Henry, for Fiona, Bibi and for us — we all need more time with this lovely family. But may Henry go in peace.
I know Henry is up
in age. It’s still hard
to hear when one is
Ill that you love so much.
It’s very appreciative the
medical work up given to
him to make him feel better.
I LOVE you <3 Henry <3 so much!!!!