Henry the hippo, Fiona's father, dies after battle with chronic illness

Family photo: Fiona poses with Mom, Bibi, and dad, Henry, in Hippo Cove (Photo courtesy of Cincinnati Zoo)
Family photo: Fiona poses with Mom, Bibi, and dad, Henry, in Hippo Cove (Photo courtesy of Cincinnati Zoo)
Henry and Fiona (Courtesy of the Cincinnati Zoo)
Henry and Fiona (Courtesy of the Cincinnati Zoo)

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden is mourning the death of 36-year-old Henry, father of the famous Fiona.

He had been struggling with health issues for months and had lost hundreds of pounds.  According to vet staff who had been carefully monitoring him, he took an obvious downward turn in the past few days and was weak and unsteady.

After an exam Tuesday morning, they determined that Henry's quality of life would not improve and made the decision to humanely euthanize him.

The zoo on Monday revealed that the hippo had been fighting a serious infection and his kidneys appeared to be shutting down.

Henry is the father of Fiona, the baby hippo who was born prematurely in January and overcame health scares to become an internet sensation. She was the sixth calf that Henry sired over the years.

Thanks to Fiona, Henry "couldn't have left a better legacy," the zoo said.

"After watching Fiona fight, defy the odds and literally make history, it feels especially unfair and defeating to have to accept this outcome for Henry. While our time with him has been short in quantity, no one can deny that his quality of life before becoming ill was exceptional. From meeting, bonding and breeding with his mate Bibi, to becoming a father to charismatic and spirited Fiona, Henry's days in Cincinnati were filled with sunshine, watermelons, waterfalls and the highest quality of care that can be provided to any animal," said Wendy Rice, Africa Head Keeper at the Cincinnati Zoo.

The median life expectancy for male Nile hippos is 35. At 36 years old, Henry was "already in his golden years," Rice said. She described Henry as a sweet, gentle giant with a big personality.

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For most of the summer, Henry, Bibi and Fiona played, soaked and napped together in their outdoor habitat.  After a rough start for the prematurely-born Fiona, the happy hippo family reunited in what zookeepers called a "fairytale ending.' But then, for no apparent reason, Henry lost his appetite in July.

From July until September, caretakers explored every avenue in diagnosing and treating the 3,600-pound hippo. A test in October revealed an infection and apparent kidney failure and the zoo immediately started aggressive treatment.

Bibi and Fiona will be fine as a bloat of two, zookeepers said. But they will notice that he's not around and may wonder why he isn't making his contact calls.

There are estimated to be between 125,000 and 148,000 Nile hippopotamus remaining in the wild.  Primary threats are poaching (for their ivory tusks and meat) and loss of habitat as more water is diverted for agriculture. The species is considered vulnerable.

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