By now you’ve surely heard the exciting news! The Cincinnati Zoo’s two newest residents are settling into their brand new home, Hippo Cove. When the exhibit opens later this month, you will all have an opportunity to meet and fall in love with both of them, but until then, here is some behind-the-scenes info to tide you over!
It has been 20 years since the Cincinnati Zoo’s collection has included hippopotamuses, so we knew we’d need to brush up on hippo husbandry before the arrival of our pair. Two Africa department keepers, Jenna Wingate and myself, were fortunate enough to travel to the St. Louis Zoo to meet Bibi, a 17-year-old female hippo, and the keepers that have taken care of her for years. The St. Louis team allowed us to shadow them during a typical day so that we could learn all about Bibi and the ins and outs of her care. My first impression of Bibi was how very laid back she seemed. In her St. Louis bloat, Bibi was the largest hippo and therefore the dominant female by default, but I wouldn’t have guessed it based on her calm demeanor. We left with a wealth of knowledge and a mounting level of excitement about bringing hippos to Cincinnati!
A couple of weeks later, it was time for Bibi’s journey to Cincinnati. Shipping hippos can be a tricky business involving extra-large travel crates, flat-bed trailers, trucks, cranes and lots of communication and teamwork. Fortunately, Bibi’s shipment went very smoothly. Though she seemed a little nervous at first (sitting in her travel crate and refusing to come out), she quickly settled into her new home and grew comfortable with her new keepers. Exactly one week later, it was Henry’s turn to make the big move! Henry will be turning 35 years old this August and comes to Cincinnati from the Dickerson Park Zoo. As with Bibi’s shipment, everything went smoothly with Henry, and two of his keepers from Dickerson Park Zoo even spent the rest of that day and the following day with us in Cincinnati to share all of their knowledge with our team. Henry seemed even less phased by the change of location and happily went about his hippo business as soon as he figured out how to navigate the stairs into his indoor pool. We now had 2 new hippos, a brand new exhibit and holding facilities, and all of the inside info on hippo husbandry and care. We were ready and excited to start taking care of these amazing animals.
Hippos have always been my favorite animal, ever since I was a kid. Getting to work with them now is a dream come true! They are larger than life, weighing in at ~4,000lbs (Henry) and ~3,000lbs (Bibi), and their personalities are even bigger! Bibi is smart and interactive and will approach keepers several times throughout the day with her mouth agape, begging for food or asking us to spray her with the hose. Henry’s personality has been tougher to assess, as he seems completely “twitterpated” by his soon-to-be mate, Bibi. From the moment he laid eyes on her, Henry has been intent on trying to find a path to Bibi. Henry, a proven breeder, has already sired offspring in the past, but he has been without a mate for 20 years! Clearly he cannot wait to spend some quality time with Miss Bibi.
Both hippos seem very excited about their outdoor exhibit as well. With a 70,000 gallon pool, a waterfall and a beautiful sandy beach, who wouldn’t be?! During her first time in the water, Bibi dazzled zoo employees with her aquatic acrobatics, spinning and swirling and even doing some somersaults in the deep end!
When it was Henry’s turn to try out the exhibit, it didn’t take long for him to give his seal of approval, which he expressed by dung showering the waterfall. If you are unfamiliar with the term, dung showering is when a hippo defecates and flaps their tail at the same time to spread the dung around and mark their territory. It is shocking, impressive, horrifying and hilarious all at once. But it was a welcomed sign to keepers that Henry was making himself at home.
Since the two hippos are brand new to Cincinnati and each other, the animal care staff has decided to take the introductions slowly, allowing each hippo to become familiar with the holding spaces and the exhibit before they are put together. Overnight, the hippos are given “howdy” access to each other via the indoor pool. On several occasions, keepers have observed Henry and Bibi vocalizing to each other and touching noses through the shift door. The hippos even nap right up against the shift door with their bodies lined up and touching through the gaps. Fortunately, all indications suggest that the two are both compatible and eager to be with each other, a good sign since we have a breeding recommendation for the pair!
Official introductions will be happening in the coming weeks, and then keepers will begin putting Henry and Bibi on exhibit together so that they are comfortable in their new space before their grand debut to the public on July 21st. The Cincinnati Zoo family cannot wait for you all to meet handsome Henry and beautiful Bibi this summer! We’ll see you soon in Hippo Cove!
17 thoughts on “Hippo Keeper’s Blog: Hippos Bibi & Henry Get Nose to Nose Behind the Scenes”
OH MY! After reading this I can hardly wait to see them in person. So exciting to hope to see all of these behaviors myself! And hoping for the pattering of little feet in the future too! How Wonderful! I have one of the pink Hippo t-shirts I can’t wait to visit and wear for them! Welcome Henry and Bibi!
I have always loved hippos. Remember seeing them at the Cincinnati zoo when I was a kid. They did not have a way cool habitat back then. My husband and I are anxious to visit and hoping for the pitter patter of baby hippo feet in the future.
Hippos are my favorite animal, I absolutely cannot wait to see Bibi & Henry in person. The anticipation is almost too much. Just ask my husband, they’re all I have talked about for months. So ecxited!!!
I can not wait to meet these two amazing and adorable creatures! I love hippos!
My kids have grown up with DPZ “Friends of the Zoo” passes and were sad to see Henry leave, so we made sure to attend his going away party & bought Hippo Kisses t-shirts. Thank you for the updates! My twins think a trip to Cincinnati from Springfield needs to happen!
So glad Henry is adjusting great!!! He was mine and my kids’ favorite animal at the zoo!
So excitef to meet them both! Thankyou for sharing their story so far.
You guys are all going to fall in love with Henry It sounds like BiBi is quite the charmer as well
So excited to meet these two and to take my turn on a Tuesday talking with guests about the new exhibit! I hope these two beautiful hippos acclimate themselves to their new environment and spend many happy years in Cincinnati! Welcome, Henry and Bibi!
Having grown up seeing Henry at the Dickerson Park Zoo, as much as I was sad to see him go, it makes me so happy to see this update. So pleased to see he’s doing well!
So glad to hear Henry is happy and doing well. We hated to see him go but so happy for him knowing he’s in such a loving place. Thanks for the updates…we all love him here in Missouri…look forward to hearing more about how he (and Bibi are doing)
We will miss Henry in Springfield, MO but glad to hear he is happy in his new home. Sometime we will get there to visit Henry.
We have had the pleasure of participating in several Zoo Encounters with Henry at DPZ. He is a sweet hippo boy who loves his fruit and alfalfa! Two hippo kisses adorn my children’s wall that they had an opportunity to secure from him themselves. Although we will miss him here in Springfield, we are so happy and excited for him! How lucky after so many years that he gets to have a friend, and what an amazing home the Cincinnati zoo has built for him and Bipi. We hope one day to visit him again but in the meantime, please keep the updates coming! We love hearing about his new adventure!
During our last two visits to the St. Louis zoo I noticed that it seemed like something was different and there weren’t as many hippos in the hippo exhibit. They also didn’t move around as much. I guess they are getting used to their Alpha being gone. Good luck with the breeding effort.
Loved reading about them!
Loved reading about them!