Fiona the baby hippo came into the world six weeks before she was due and spent the first weeks of her life fighting to stay alive, as many preemies do.
Lucky for her, she had “Team Fiona” on her side — zookeepers at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens who became her surrogate parents.
“I always tell people how magical she is,” zookeeper Wendy Rice told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I honestly think we could have a unicorn in the holding space next to her, and I don’t think I would bat an eye.”
After weeks of emotional ups and downs and touch-and-goes, Fiona the preemie Nile hippo calf is a fat, happy baby with a fan club — 508,000 followers at last count. She gets fan mail, too.
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The zoo has been posting updates about Fiona’s progress on its Facebook page, where Fiona has more than 500,000 followers. The most popular Fiona post reached 32 million people, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
The camera loves Fiona.
There’s Fiona checking out the deep end of her indoor pool.
There’s Fiona getting a drink.
There’s Fiona weighing in on Sunday at 200 pounds.
She only weighed 29 pounds when she was born on Jan. 24 with her mother Bibi’s eyes and her father Henry’s coloring. That’s about half the previous lowest recorded birth weight for her species.
She was so tiny she didn’t even look real to some zookeepers.
“I was amazed she was alive,” Christina Gorsuch, curator of mammals at the zoo and Team Fiona’s “coach,” told the Enquirer.
Fiona couldn’t nurse, a situation that required help beyond the six-person Africa staff at the zoo. Team Fiona quickly grew.
One keeper stayed with Fiona every night, without a night off, for five straight weeks, according to the Enquirer. Fiona stays by herself at night now.
When Fiona became dehydrated and sick after refusing milk she needed an intravenous drip to survive. The zoo’s vet team struggled to work with her tiny, preemie veins.
So the nearby Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center literally came to the rescue, according to the BBC.
Two members of the hospital’s vascular team took ultrasound equipment to the zoo and managed to insert an IV catheter into Fiona that helped zookeepers secure a line in one of her leg veins. Fiona recouped.
“There were at least three major hurdles that she got over that we weren’t sure,” Gorsuch told the Enquirer. “She tried to die on us a couple of times. Everyone did a great job, but it really wore us down.”
Zookeepers joke that Fiona has come to love the smell of coffee because zookeepers have consumed so much while taking care of her.
“She’s ridiculously cute,” Gorsuch told the Enquirer. “It makes tears well up in your eyes how cute she is. Zookeepers can get kind of jaded. You’re around amazing animals all day. There is no threshold for Fiona.”
They’ve been taking care of her close to mom and dad, and increasing her contact with them so the family can eventually reunite swimmingly. Once they family is together zookeepers will step back and stop interacting with her like they have since she was born.
Fiona might be ready to greet her fans later this month around the one-year anniversary of the death of Harambe, the zoo’s gorilla who was shot on May 28, 2016 after a little boy fell into its enclosure.
“We’ve had the spotlight on us for almost a year,” said zoo spokeswoman Michelle Curley. “It’s nice for it to be for positive reasons now.”