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How is Tucker settling in at the Cincinnati Zoo?

 Fiona and Tucker share a moment as a school of fish swim by
Tana Weingartner
Fiona and Tucker share a moment as a school of fish swim by.

Now that the birthday celebrations for Fiona are over, it's time to check in on the newest resident of Hippo Cove. Tuckerjoined the Cincinnati bloat in Sept. 2021.

The 18-year-old hippo (he'll be 19 in May) came to Cincinnati from San Francisco where he'd been living alone.

"Tucker was brought here primarily just to give him some roommates and hippos to live with," explains Jenna Wingate, senior keeper at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. "They are gregarious and live in large groups and bodies of water. They don't necessarily always form really close bonds, but they do surround themselves with other hippos based on what's available resource-wise."

Wingate says the three hippos are getting along well. Keepers weren't sure how Bibi and Fiona would react to a new companion, especially a male. It was uncertain how long the introduction period might need to last.

"We weren't sure if we'd have to have them next to each other with a gate between them for months or days, and everything moved quicker than we expected because they were just doing so well and so interested in one another."

Fiona was very interested in playing with Tucker in the outdoor pool. Wingate describes her as "an annoying little kid" who wanted Tucker's attention. She pulled her usual tricks like biting his tail and pestering him and generally letting him know what all of Cincinnati already knows — she likes attention.

"Then that kind of calmed down and they're found napping together often and they do really well, which was a big deal because Fiona is so small compared to him — he's 4,200 pounds; she's 1,800 pounds and that's a big weight difference. If he decided he didn't like what she was doing and wanted to let her know, there's a chance she would be hurt and that would be our worst nightmare."

Bibi was also intrigued by Tucker's arrival and Wingate says they hit it off and got along great.

"These days they still get along really well but Bibi does let him know that she is the boss and she's been living here much, much longer than him. We are definitely taking things slow inside and making sure they have the right amount of space for introductions."

When it's warm enough, all three can wander and explore the outdoor habitat together, but Wingate says Bibi and Tucker are kept separate indoors at night as they continue getting to know each other.

Could another calf be in the zoo's future?

For now, they're just hanging out, but it's possible Bibi and Tucker could be recommended for breeding. That decision is made by the Species Survival Plan and would be dependent on the need for more hippos in zoos and if there's appropriate space.

Fiona is, of course, Bibi's only calf, and the zoo doesn't know what caused her premature birth. Wingate says there's isn't really a way to find out now either, or if there ever was. She expects it's unlikely a second calf would also arrive early.

"Fiona's the only one that we know of, at least in zoos, and the ones in the wild just probably don't survive and you wouldn't know about them," she says. "So I hope it was just this really random once-in-a-lifetime thing, but if Bibi were to have another calf that was premature, we would definitely take that and make sure she probably isn't recommended to breed again because of it for the safety and health of the future calf."

If other hippo calves are born premature, however, there is a wealth of knowledge on how a zoo should handle the situation. Zookeepers learned to milk Bibi and sent her milk to the Smithsonian Milk Repository, where it was analyzed in order to create baby hippo formula. Wingate says the Cincinnati Zoo also has more than 500 pages of notes for the first 11 months of Fiona's life.

"Handwritten notes — they've been digitized by now — but we have so much information at this point that if anything crazy happens again in the future we can handle it with a lot less stress."

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.