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As she turns 5, Cincinnati's favorite hippo nears adulthood

A little boy crouches next to the glass to see Fiona up close while a woman takes a picture.
Tana Weingartner
Born six weeks early, Fiona continues to draw fans to Hippo Cove.

The world's - OK, at least Cincinnati's - favorite hippo is turning 5! Born six weeks premature, Fiona skyrocketed to fame with her inspiring story of perseverance and those gosh darn cute wiggly ears.

"Hippos are mostly full-grown or reproductively mature around 5 to 7 years of age," says Jenna Wingate, senior keeper in the Africa department at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. "She is still a little bit small for her age though."

Fiona weighs in at over 1,800 pounds. The average for her age is about 2,000 or even 3,000 pounds, according to Wingate.

"Our belief is that she is still small because she was premature ... it will be interesting to see over the next couple of years, I think we'll get a better idea of if Fiona is going to be a small hippo always or if she's just taking longer to catch up."

When she was born in 2017, Fiona weighed just 29 pounds. Cincinnati Children's assisted the zoo in her care.
Cincinnati Zoo
When she was born in 2017, Fiona weighed just 29 pounds. Cincinnati Children's assisted the zoo in her care.

Despite her petite size and early arrival, Wingate says Fiona is healthy and thriving. The staff would like to see her continue to gain weight and grow should she be recommended for breeding by the Species Survival Plan in the future.

"If she is recommended for breeding we would like to see her much larger for her own safety - as far as the act of breeding with a male and also for her carrying a calf. If she stays about this size she may never be recommended to breed just for her own safety, whether or not she is reproductively mature and capable."

Wingate says Fiona would need be over the 2,200-pound mark to be considered for breeding in the future. That decision could still be years away. She notes Bibi was in her late teens when she had Fiona, her first calf.

Fiona will celebrate her birthday with all of her favorite foods prepared by her care team. The zoo also is offering a virtual celebration as a fundraiser.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.