Saturday, July 15, 2017

Fiona the miracle Hippo baby

A story, not about polar bears, but about our local little star Fiona, the miracle baby hippo.

January 24, and it was a cold winter morning at the Cincinnati Zoo when 17 year old Bibi the Nile Hippo gave birth to her first baby, so premature that the wee little one was not expected to survive. This baby girl only weighed 29 pounds, and a normal newborn hippo weighs 55 pounds at  minimum, but this little one arrived six weeks early. A baby hippo born this small had never survived. She was so small and weak that she couldn't stand up to nurse.

Parents Henry and Bibi in love
The hippo habitat was turned into a preemie nursery. A regimen of 24 hour care, bottle feedings, and research in to how to raise a premature baby hippo kept the caregivers busy as they gave this little girl a name, Fiona, and some revolutionary treatments to keep her going.

Fiona in the center with her mom and dad now
Mother Bibi was patient as the staff milked her so the valuable early milk and colostrum could help build up Fiona's defenses. Fiona was given pool time early on as a way to exercise her muscles and build up her strength. As she got bigger, the zoo brought in bigger baby pools and lots of pool toys.

Medical professionals from Children's Hospital came to the zoo to help in setting up how to administer supplemental oxygen, for Fiona's preemie lungs were still underdeveloped. The caregivers also gave her fluids through IV feedings in addition to her bottles, to help Fiona over a difficult patch in early February. Fiona was a fighter, but those early weeks were touch and go at times.  

The keepers kept Fiona near her mother and father 35 year old Henry so they could see, hear and smell each other. The staff hoped one day to reunite the family, but had no idea just how this would work. Would the adult hippos realize this was their baby? Would Fiona even survive?

All the while, Fiona's fame was growing. There were daily updates on the zoo's facebook page. Local and national TV stations featured Fiona videos. There were Fiona cupcakes as a fundraiser, and T-shirts and Fiona beer. Fans from all over the world were following Fiona's journey as she struggle to survive and to thrive. Fiona news was a welcome counterbalance to all the bad news in the world. Fiona was seem as welcome ray of sunshine in a gloomy world.

Link to Zoo's Fiona Blog

Facebook photos and videos showed the milestones in Fiona's young life, and also the fun moments when she played in cardboard boxes, or fell asleep in the shower.

As Fiona got bigger, she was able to graduate to the large inside pool, with higher and higher water levels. When she was large enough and had gained the skills she needed, in early June, she was introduced to the outside pool, with the help of her keepers dressed in diving outfits to assist the little hippo in adjusting to the new experience. 

Fiona started spending some time with her mother, first through a grid, then face to face. She gradually worked up to some pool time with mom in mid June, during times the zoo was closed.

Baby Fiona in the big pool

This week, mid July, she met her father Henry face to face in the pool, and on Thursday, napped in the pool between her parents. Bibi was protective of Fiona on Thursday, nipping at Henry if he got too close.

All of the photos of Fiona here were taken on Friday, July 14.

Henry nuzzles Fiona

Fiona plays with her dad

Investigating Henry's teeth. The fish in the pool are Talapia,
 and keep the pool clean by eating all the hippo poop.

For the past few weeks, Fiona has been slowly introduced to the public, for only a short time on certain days, unannounced. This week, some have been lucky enough to catch a glimpse.

Henry on the left, and Bibi on the right, with Fiona in the middle

 I made a quick trip to the zoo on Friday afternoon, in hopes of seeing the elusive Fiona.  And there she was, napping between mom and dad in the pool, just her little bottom showing.
Fiona's little bottom was all we could see for hours

I waited and waited. One lady remarked that she came all the way from Virginia just to see Fiona, and she was so glad that Fiona was out in the pool.

Fiona playing around, Henry in the background

Eventually, Henry woke up and got out of the way, and we could all see Fiona. Soon all three hippos were moving about, and Fiona was gracefully bobbing up and down. 

Fiona underwater

Henry and Fiona 

Fiona above water. She can hold her breath for 3 minutes now.
Adults can stay under for up to 5 minutes.

And then she and Daddy Henry decided to get to know on another. Hippos use their mouths to investigate the world and communicate with other hippos, so Henry opened his mouth wide and Fiona went right in. This video of of their first such encounter. I know Fiona climbed into her mother's mouth when they first met face to face. It is natural hippo behavior to mouth each other.

Henry and Fiona

Henry was very patient and gentle with Fiona, letting her take her time in getting to know him. He held his mouth open and let her inspect as long as she wanted, sometimes below water, and sometimes above. It looked scary to the visitors, to have this little baby inside of the huge hippo's mouth, but it is perfectly natural for a hippo.

Henry and Fiona playing and getting to know each other

Hippos communicate with their mouths

Henry was very patient with Fiona

Fiona loves being with the big hippos

It looks scary, but Fiona isn't at all afraid. It is just a hippo thing

Hi, Daddy!

Video of Fiona exploring Henry's mouth

Henry and Bibi may or may not realize that this is their baby, but the treat Fiona as any hippo in a "bloat" would treat a baby hippo, with care. 

Hippos poop a lot, and here Fiona is right up close to her mother when it happens! The fish are there to eat it, and keep the pool clean.  These hippos eat 25 to 30 pounds of hay, lettuce and other vegetable matter per day. Hippo Cove also has a state of the art water filtration system.

Fiona bites her mother's behind, playfully, right after the poop incident.
There were times when they paid attention to the young hippo, but then they forgot about her and just noticed each other. Henry has always been crazy in love with Bibi since they first met a year ago when Hippo Cove first opened at the Cincinnati Zoo. The gestation period is 8 months, and Fiona's due date was in March. 

Henry and Fiona

Fiona floats along

Fiona inspects Henry's mouth

Open wide

Fiona is in awe of the big hippos

When the adults are otherwise busy, Fiona wanders off and plays on her own, sometimes going into the shallow dip of a pool in the rear of the big pool. 

Bibi and Henry paying attention to just each other

Fiona is being ignored

Mom and Day, I am here!

She seems aware of the visitors too, and swims back and forth, up and down, in front of the glass, much to the delight of her fans. After all, she was raised by humans, and loves attention from everybody.

Fiona loves the attention of visitors

Fiona at play

Fiona's pretty face

Watching the visitors
Video of Fiona bobbing up for air

Now that the family is reunited, and everything is going well, I suspect that Fiona will be on exhibit most of the time, although it is always her prerogative to stay inside if she prefers. 
Fiona is ready for a big summer

She has come a long ways in less than 6 months. She now weighs 375 pounds, and that number goes up every day. Her mother Bibi is said to be 3000 pounds, and father Henry is 4000 pounds. Fiona has inherited Henry's coloring, with pink markings on the sides of her face.

Fiona and fish

July and August will be very busy at Hippo Cove, now that Fiona has made her debut. She is truly a worldwide sensation! There are rumors about books, movies and more, starring Fiona!
Fiona is a star!

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Aalborg kids have names now

Nuka and Qilak

The Aalborg twins now have names, chosen in a facebook vote.

Die Zwillinge im Aalborg Zoo haben nun einen Namen bekommen, abgestimmt wurde die Wahl mit Facebook.

Nuka and Qilak eat some fish scraps

The bigger cub is to be called Qilak, which means sky in Inuit. The little one is Nuka, which means little sister in Inuit, and it is the same name her grandmother had.

Das größere Jungtier wird nun Qilak genannt, es bedeutet *Himmel* in der Inuitsprache. Das kleinere Jungtier heißt Nuka, welches *Kleine Schwester*bedeutet, den gleichen Namen trug auch schon ihre Großmutter.

Malik and her cubs
Aalborg Zoo, which is in Denmark, has a tradition of naming their cubs with names from Greenland, which is a Danish territory.

Im Aalborg Zoo ist es Tradition, Jungtiere nach Namen aus Grönland zu benennen, welches ein dänisches Territorium ist.

Nuka and Qilak


Mother Malik gave birth to three cubs on November 26, 2016, live on dencam, with many of us watching the births. Newborn polar bear cubs face tough odds, even when they are born in a zoo, One of the cubs died after three days, but the other two continued to do well. We could watch the cubs eat and sleep and play and grow on the Aalborg Zoo dencam, and later, when they emerged into the spring sunshine, we could watch on the webcam as they explored their home.

Mutter Malik brachte am 26. November 2016 drei Jungtiere zu Welt, live via Webcam zu verfolgen. Neugeborene Eisbären haben mit vielen Schwierigkeiten zu kämpfen, auch wenn sie in einem Zoo zur Welt kommen. Eines der Jungtiere verstarb nach drei Tagen,aber die beiden anderen entwickelten sich weiterhin gut .Wir konnten mit der Kamera verfolgen wie sie gesäugt wurden, schliefen und auch spielten als sie im Zoo heran wuchsen.

Qilak and Nuka

Qilak with mouth open, and Nuka.
The cubs' father Lars came to Aalborg from Rostock, Germany, in the spring of 2015. He will be 24 this coming fall. Lars was the father of the famous Knut of Zoo Berlin, who was born in 2006 and tragically died of a brain inflammation in 2011 at the early age of 4 years old, Knut was raised by keepers, and became a celebrity bear cub, probably the most famous polar bear in the world at the time.

Der Vater des Nachwuchses ist Lars, er kam aus Rostock, Deutschland im Frühjahr 2015. Im Herbst wird er 24 Jahre alt. Lars ist der Vater des berühmten Eisbären Knut aus dem Zoologischen Garten in Berlin, der im Dezember 2006 zur Welt kam und in 2011 dann mit nur 4 Jahren an einer Hirnentzündung verstarb. Knut wurde von Tierpfleger aufgezogen und war wohl der berühmteste Eisbär der Welt zu seiner Zeit.


Lars went on to father daughter Anori in Wuppertal, and son Fiete in Rostock, both with Vilma.

Lars zeugte auch Tochter Anori in Wuppertal sowie Sohn Fiete in Rostock, beide von Vilma zur Welt gebracht.

Lars watching Malik and cubs

Malik has also lost a cub much too young. Daughter Augo died after a fall in the enclosure, at the young age of 2 1/2 years old. The ditch where she was fatally injured was shortly after filled in, and now there is a new mulch pit there. It was a time of great mourning and loss.

Malik hat auch ein Junges viel zu früh verloren. Tochter Augo starb nach einem Sturz über die Anlage, sie wurde nur 2 1/2 Jahre alt. Der Graben, in den sie so unglücklich stürzte ist mittlerweile aufgefüllt und nun haben die Eisbären auch ein Mulchbett. Es war eine sehr traurige Zeit und ein schrecklicher Verlust.

Malik and cubs Qilak and Nuka watching Papa Lars.

16 year old Mother Malik had been born at Aalborg Zoo in 2000. Her father Nanook, who was born in Copenhagen, was the half brother of the famous rescued circus bear Wilhelm, and also the half brother of Corinna of Stuttgart, died in 2001. Malik's mother Nuka II died in 2006. It is nice that Nuka II's granddaughter carries on her name.

Die nun 16 Jahre Malik ist im Aalborg Zoo in 2000 geboren. Ihr Vater Nanook, der aus Kopenhagen kam war der Halbbruder des berühmten, aus einem Zirkus geretteten Eisbären Wilhelm, ebenso Halbbruder von Corinna aus Stuttgart, die 2001 verstarb. Es ist sehr schön, dass Nuka II's Enkelin ihren Namen weiter führt.

Snack time for Nuka and Qilak

The Aalborg twins are easy to tell apart. The bigger one is said to be a girl, but with Aalborg Zoo, there is always that question, and this cub, now named Qilak, is bigger and rounder, has a wider snout like a boy, stays closer to mother, and spends more time on the shore and less in the water than little sister Nuka.

Die Aalborgzwillinge sind einfach zu unterscheiden. Das Größere sagt man sei ein Mädchen, obwohl man im Aalborg Zoo nicht sicher sein kann, und dieses Jungtier heißt nun Qilak, es ist größer und recht rundlich, hat eine breitere Schnauze, mehr wie ein Junge, bleibt meist sehr dicht bei der Mutter, bleibt auch häufig an Land, ist weniger im Wasser als die kleine Schwester Nuka.

Nuka inspects my polar bear bag

Wanting more grapes

Click for video of behind the scenes feeding
I was lucky enough to spend three full days with the Aalborg bears. Father Lars spends some of his time watching his children play, but he also likes watching his visitors. From time to time, the cubs watch their father, but then they go back to their many activities. The cubs are lively and playful, and they love the water. The underwater viewing windows at Aalborg allow visitors to see them playing under water up close.

Ich hatte das große Vergnügen drei ganze Tage mit den Aalborg Eisbären zu verbringen. Vater Lars beobachtet aus der Ferne seine Kinder, aber auch die Besucher. Manchmal beobachten auch die Kinder ihren Vater, aber dann sind sie wieder mit ihren eigenen Aktivitäten beschäftigt. Die Jungtiere sind lebhaft und spielfreudig, und sie lieben das Wasser. Die viele Unterwasserfenster im Aalborg Zoo macht es den Besucher möglich, die Eisbären unter Wasser zu beobachten.

Qilak, I think, playing wit the new crazy egg

One cub has the egg, but wait. Here comes the other!

I had brought along two new crazy eggs, courtesy of Michael Salker in Germany. We presented the yellow one to the cubs when they were in the small enclosure. Within a few minutes, the cubs had hidden it in between the boulders, where there was also trapped a green ball, and they had much fun trying to get the toy free.

Ich hatte zwei neue Crazy Eggs im Gepäck, gespendet von Michael Salker aus Deutschland. Das gelbe Crazy Egg wurde den Bären in der kleinen Anlage überbracht, innerhalb weniger Minuten hatten die Bären es in den Steinen versteckt, dort war auch ein grüner Ball gefangen, und sie waren eifrig dran, das Spielzeug zu befreien.

Malik runs off with the yellow egg, before the twins  hid it in the rocks

The blue egg was given to Lars, but he barely glanced at it, as he is not very interested in playing with toys. Later, when the cubs were in the large enclosure, they discovered the blue egg and had a great time with it, with Mother Malik often joining in the game.

Das blaue Ei wurde Lars verabreicht, aber er beachtete es kaum, er hat kaum Interesse für Spielzeug. Als dann später die Jungetiere auf der großen Anlage waren entdeckten sie das blaue Ei und auch Malik spielte mit ihnen gemeinsam.

Crazy eggs are a favorite toy. Here are Qilak and Nuka.
Nuka is the leader in playing, it seems, but Qilak is happy to join in. They had great fun with a horse head given to the bears. They also like to play with twigs and branches, like their Papa Lars. And of course they really enjoyed the crazy egg.

Nuka ist die Anführerin beim Spielen, aber Qilak mischt sehr gern mit. Sie hatte viel Vergnügen mit einem Pferdekopf, der den Bären gereicht wurde. Sie spielen auch mit Zweigen und Blätterwerk, genauso wie ihr Vater Lars. Und natürlich machte das Crazy Egg ihnen viel Spaß.

Malik smells trout

Where is the trout?

It is so close. it will be here soon. Then live fish to catch!
Live trout put into the pool for Malik to catch, and she shared with her cubs. They were too young to catch the fish themselves, but they will learn.

Im Pool gab es für Malik lebende Forellen zu fangen, die sie auch mit ihrem Nachwuchs geteilt hat. Noch sind die beiden zu jung um Fische selbst zu fangen, aber auch das werden sie lernen.

Malik has caught one!

Sharing with the cubs

Mama Malik eats trout all by herself.
Qilak sneaks in to steal a bit of trout.

Now that I am home, I can still check in on Qilak and Nuka and their parents with the Aalborg Zoo webcam. We are indeed lucky to be invited to watch these busy little cubs grow up.

Nun bin ich wieder daheim und kann immer Qilak und Nuka sowie ihre Eltern mit der Webcam des Aalborg Zoos beobachten. Wir können uns glücklich schätzen, diese so eifrigen kleinen Jungtiere beobachten zu können und  sie groß werden zu sehen.

The end

Naptime for the little angels Qalik and Nuka.
Thank you to Marga Andresen Gransow for the German translation.