Fiona, hippo who defied odds by surviving premature birth, celebrates 6th birthday

There are few animals in the world as famous as Fiona the Hippo. After defying the odds at birth, Fiona became a sensation and for years has been a beloved icon of the Cincinnati Zoo.

Every year, Fiona’s birthday is an occasion to celebrate this hippo’s remarkable life and the impact she has had on her local community.

Yesterday marked Fiona’s happy 6th birthday, and the zoo pulled out all the stops to celebrate.

Fiona being adorable. That's all.

Posted by Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden on Sunday, December 27, 2020

Fiona’s premature birth

Fans who have followed Fiona’s journey from the beginning might find it hard to believe it’s been six years since the hippo first made headlines, after she was born six weeks early and fought for survival.

Fiona was born on January 24, 2017 to parents Henry and Bibi, and was the first born at the Cincinnati Zoo in 75 years. But excitement turned to fear as the hippo was born dangerously premature.

Premature baby hippo update

The premature baby hippo born early yesterday morning, six weeks before her due date, remained stable overnight and is receiving around-the-clock intensive care from Zoo vets and animal care staff. Her mom, Bibi, is doing fine and, because of her experience standing still for ultrasounds, is allowing milk to be collected. Vets are adding mom’s milk to a fluid mixture that is being tube-fed to the baby. She is still too weak to stand but the nutrients she’s receiving should help her gain strength. More about the baby:

Posted by Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden on Wednesday, January 25, 2017

She was only 29 pounds at birth — about half the previous lowest recorded birth weight for a hippo.

The odds were against her, but she received all the care she could get.

Posted by Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden on Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Because Fiona couldn’t stand, she couldn’t nurse from her mother, so zoo staff bottle-fed her a mix of her mother’s milk with nutrients to help her gain strength.

“We are giving her fluids and keeping her moist and warm,” said Christina Gorsuch, curator of mammals at the Cincinnati Zoo, said in a press release at the time. “Her little system is underdeveloped, and getting her to a healthy weight will be a challenge. Vets and animal staff are doing everything they can to get her through this critical time.”

Posted by Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden on Tuesday, January 24, 2023

A month later, she started teething and refused to be bottle-fed, and required IV fluids.

But despite the setbacks and the odds against her, Fiona pulled through: over the following months, Fiona began developing well and has since grown to over 1,000 pounds.

And after people around the world watched her recovery, she became a major animal celebrity.

She’s the Cincinnati Zoo’s most famous animal, and a local celebrity in the city. She’s been the subject of several children’s books.

And she often goes viral. In one memorable moment, Fiona accidentally “photobombed” a couple’s engagement photo:

Hippo photobombing a proposal 😂

Posted by We Love Animals on Thursday, September 17, 2020

Fiona’s 6th birthday

Yesterday, Fiona celebrated her 6th birthday, an inspiring milestone given her rough start to life.

“6 years went by in a flash!” the zoo wrote in a Facebook post. “Fiona has come so far and continues to inspire people near and far and raise awareness for hippos in the wild. She’s one special hippo!”

Posted by Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden on Tuesday, January 24, 2023

As has become a yearly tradition, the Cincinnati Zoo made sure to celebrate the occasion with the help of local businesses.

A video shows Fiona enjoying her very own special birthday cake, made out of her favorite foods. It was created and donated by Simple Truth.

According to a press release, they kept celebrations “low-key” due to the “uncertainty” of January temperatures, but celebrations could be seen all over the city as local businesses sold limited-edition Fiona items.

Graeters Ice Cream has a “Chunky, Chunky Hippo” ice cream flavor, Coffee Emporium is selling “Fiona’s Blend” coffee, and Listermann Brewing Company even has a “Special Fiona Brew.”

In addition, Fiona fans can donate a $5 birthday gift and receive a “digital Fiona kiss” and an entry to win a grand prize consisting of a $1,000 gift card and a behind the scenes tour.

Posted by Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden on Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Fiona’s brother, Fritz

The past year has been a very eventful one for Fiona: she became a big sister!

In August, Bibi gave birth to a male hippo named Fritz, giving Fiona a baby half-brother (Fiona’s father Henry died in 2017; Fritz’s father is Tucker.)

Say hello to Fritz! More than 200,000 votes were received via a Jotform poll, and 56% preferred Fritz over Ferguson. …

Posted by Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden on Monday, August 15, 2022

Thankfully, Fritz’s arrival was not as dramatic as Fiona’s was, and he has grown up healthy and strong. He was carefully introduced to his famous sister, and the two appear to be getting along well since their first meeting in August.

“This first intro went very well. Bibi was appropriately protective of Fritz but was not aggressive toward Fiona,” said Cincinnati Zoo’s director of animal care Christina Gorsuch. “The exposure was brief but a great first step.” 

Happy birthday, Fiona! We’re so glad you’ve continued to thrive all these years, and have inspired so many people.

Please share this story and wish this precious hippo a happy birthday!