We all love to love the Zoo’s famous residents Fiona, Bibi, and Tucker, but today is a day to celebrate them even more! That’s right, it’s World Hippo Day. “Hippo” is short for hippopotamus, a word derived from an ancient Greek word meaning “horse of the river.” However, as you might imagine, hippos are only distantly related to horses, with their closest living relatives actually being whales! These massive mammals can weigh over 9,000 lbs, but weigh between 3,000-7,000 lbs on average with males being larger than females. The Zoo’s male, Tucker, is the largest of the three, weighing in at about 4,200 lbs.
Here at the Zoo, both Fiona and Bibi recently celebrated birthdays. Fiona turned 5 years old on January 24th, and Bibi celebrated her 23rd birthday on February 7th. Their friend Tucker, who joined the bloat (the name for a group of hippos) in the Fall of 2021, is 18 years old. In human care, hippos usually live between 40-50 years, so the Zoo expects to celebrate many more hippo birthdays! It’s hard to believe that Fiona has come so far since her premature birth in 2017, and although she is still growing, Fiona is approaching maturity. Full-term hippos her age tend to be between 2,000-3,000 lbs, but Fiona is around 1,800 lbs. Whether she will be an average-sized hippo or remain on the smaller side is still unknown, but she is in great health!
Because they are such large animals, hippos must eat a lot – between 30 and 150 lbs of food per day! They will often come onto land at night to graze on grass, which makes up the majority of their herbivorous diet. After all that food is digested, it has to go somewhere. Here at the Zoo, the hippos’ waste as well as bits of straw or food that would normally cloud the water is filtered out. A conveyor belt removes the larger particles to be composted, sand filters remove dirt and smaller debris, and microfibers keep the water chemically balanced. This system makes Hippo Cove the most sustainable hippo exhibit in the world, and is just one of the many sustainability projects that contribute to the Cincinnati Zoo’s title of Greenest Zoo in America®!
You may have also seen the school of tilapia that share the water with the hippos. These fish help act as a clean-up crew prior to the filtration system by eating debris in the water. The clean, clear water resulting from the tilapia and the filtration system keeps both Zoo guests and the hippos happy. It doesn’t end there; all 70,000 gallons of water in the exhibit is recycled. Underneath the African savanna exhibit is a 400,000 gallon cistern of rainwater collected from Zoo grounds. This water is treated and used in Hippo Cove and in multiple other ways throughout the Zoo.
Wild hippos share habitat with tilapia too, and the recycling of nutrients by these fish is an important component of the food web in Africa. However, this habitat is unfortunately decreasing, negatively impacting hippos and the other organisms who share their rivers. Hippos are found only in eastern Africa despite their former range extending throughout the whole continent. Hippos depend on freshwater, which is a finite resource. Even though freshwater may be abundant where we live, conserving water at the Zoo and at home means that there is more to go around. So, by having an environmentally-friendly hippo exhibit, the Zoo is helping wild hippos in Africa as well as wildlife around the world by extension.
- Shorten your showers by just one minute
- Turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth
- Water your plants with rainwater or leftover water from your water bottle
- Only run the dishwasher and washing machine when loads are full
- Use a rain barrel to catch rainwater for your garden
- Check out the Zoo’s rain barrel art project and auction
Educators and community groups are invited to keep the hippopoto-mazing learning going by signing up for a virtual Wild Chat called My B.F.F(iona). This program combines pre-recorded videos and live conversation with a Zoo educator to give your students the inside-scoop on the lives of Fiona and her companions! To read more and to sign up, visit our website.