CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Hippos are considered extremely dangerous animals, but you wouldn't suspect it by looking at Fiona, the beloved baby hippo at the Cincinnati Zoo.
At nap time, 100-pound Fiona crawls into her caretakers laps to sleep. But it's becoming a bit more challenging and will only pose more potential dangers as the hippo grows bigger and stronger, according to Head Keeper Wendy Rice.
Fiona was born more than one month earlier than expected. The premature hippo has overcome a series of health setbacks with the support of internet fans worldwide.
So far, Fiona has not exhibited any outright aggressive behavior towards humans and may never do so.
In her latest blog post, Rice says Fiona spent her imprinting period (the first 10-12 days of life) with humans instead of her mother Bibi. Fiona has likely formed social bonds with the care staff instead of her hippo mom.
"We will eventually have to transition to managing her as we would any other hippo, using protected contact. Hippos are considered extremely dangerous animals and for that reason there must always be a protective barrier in place between the keepers and the animals so that we are never sharing the same space. These kinds of regulations are essential to ensuring the safety of the animal care staff as well as the animals, and are a staple of all accredited institutions. So even though Fiona has been sharing space with the keepers so far (in "free contact"), we will eventually come to a point when Fiona must be managed via protected contact, just like her adult counterparts," Rice writes.
Fiona will eventually reach upwards of 3,000 pounds. While the zoo does not yet have a timeframe for starting protected content, they say it will be "sooner rather than later."
Rice ends the blog by writing:
"Although we have been thrilled to play the role of surrogate mother, the simple truth is that humans will never be able to be provide all of the appropriate and healthy interaction and companionship that Fiona can get from other hippos. Even if we could meet all of her physical and social needs, there would come a day when it is not actually safe for us to do so. Though Fiona may never want to harm a human intentionally, there are certain realities of working with a 3,000+ lb animal that even the most heart-warming stories of survival and love cannot overlook. Moving forward, it is in Fiona's and the care team's best interests that we begin focusing on transitioning Fiona into the bloat with Bibi and Henry and helping her become a healthy and well-adjusted hippo!"