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 5th birthday, and the zoo pulled out all the stops to celebrate.
Fiona’s premature birth
Fans who have followed Fiona’s journey from the beginning might find it hard to believe it’s been five 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. Excitement turned to fear after the hippo was born dangerously premature.
She was only 29 pounds at birth — about half the previous lowest recorded birth weight for a hippo.
The odds were against her, but her carers didn’t give up: they gave her all the care she could get. Because Fiona couldn’t stand, she couldn’t nurse from her mother, so they 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.”
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:
Celebrating Fiona’s birthday
Given the unusual, dramatic circumstances of her birth and her enduring popularity, it’s no surprise that the zoo celebrates Fiona’s birthday every year.
For her fourth birthday last year, Fiona got her own cake made out of her favorite fruits. And since fans couldn’t celebrate in-person due to the pandemic, they let people get involved with a virtual apple race held at the zoo for a chance to win a meet-and-greet with Fiona.
Local businesses in Cincinnati also marked the occasion by selling Fiona-themed products like cookies, ice cream and beer.
“Since she is the sweetheart of the city, several Zoo partners are offering Fiona-themed goodies to celebrate her birthday,” said Cincinnati Zoo director Thane Maynard in a press release.
Yesterday, Fiona celebrated her 5th birthday, and once again received a cake made “with all her favorite produce and snacks.”
She certainly seemed to enjoy it:
The zoo hosted a virtual birthday party for fans, for the cost of a $5 birthday gift. Entry also included a chance to win a Fiona prize package.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since Fiona was born,” Thane Maynard said in a press release. “She has touched so many people with her story of survival and has become a symbol of hope for millions of people around the world.”
“Fiona’s story tugs at the heartstrings,” he added. This 5th birthday is extra special considering her rough start.”
Given Fiona’s lasting popularity in her home city, it’s no surprise that many Cincinnati institutions celebrate the hippo’s big day.
The Cincinnati Reds baseball team found a sweet way to honor the famous hippo. A funny video shows one of their mascots, “Mr. Redlegs,” reading a book called “Gift Ideas for Hippos.”
Fellow mascot “Rosie Red” comes up with a solution: a custom Reds jersey for Fiona, with a number “5” honoring her fifth birthday.
And one of the most famous Reds players in history shared a video honoring Fiona for her birthday.
Johnny Bench, the Hall of Fame catcher who helped win the team two World Series rings back in the ’70s, shared a video on Twitter wishing Fiona a happy birthday, holding his own stuffed Fiona:
And one iconic animal hero also shared a video birthday greeting: Jane Goodall!
The legendary primatologist expressed pride in how far Fiona has come since her difficult birth, and wished that Fiona would be “spoiled rotten” on her big day.
“I wish you a happy birthday, and raise a glass to you,” Goodall says. “I’m not quite sure what hippos would like to drink, but whatever it is, cheers.”
Five years after Fiona’s remarkable birth, the love for this hippo is as strong as ever.
“People are still coming and crying when they see her and doing all sort of things for an opportunity to get a photo with her,” Jenna Wingate, one of Fiona’s primary caretakers, told WLWT.
“People tell us how she’s changed their lives or helped them get through hard times, whether it’s their own illness or their child in the NICU because Fiona was in her own little hippo NICU.”
“We thought the popularity would die off but it hasn’t, so it’s been amazing,” she said. “We’re all so proud of her and excited to continue watching her grow up.”
A very happy 5th birthday to the legendary Fiona! We’re so glad you’ve continued to thrive, and serve as an inspiration to so many people.
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