Hippo-y Birthday, Fiona! The Popular Preemie Turns 1 - NBC4 Washington
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Hippo-y Birthday, Fiona! The Popular Preemie Turns 1

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Cute Alert! Baby Hippo Loves Bathtime

    Sometimes the pictures just speak for themselves and that's certainly the case with young Fiona. Earlier this week the baby hippo's keepers at the Cincinnati Zoo let little Fiona wander around the facility. It didn't take long before she found the shower. Fiona played in the water and eventually took a nap with the water running. (Published Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018)

    Some days, it's more like being a Hollywood star's agent than a communications official for the zoo. That's what happens when your prematurely born hippopotamus becomes a global celebrity.

    The Cincinnati Zoo has a day of festivities ready for Fiona's first birthday party Saturday, and expect plenty more of Fiona in Year 2.

    Season two of "The Fiona Show" on Facebook Watch will begin Wednesday morning, bringing fans even more behind the scenes live videos of the popular hippo.

    Zoo director Thane Maynard's own "Saving Fiona" will later this year join the growing library of books about her. The Cincinnati Reds baseball team will feature a Fiona bobblehead, and the minor-league Florence, Kentucky, Freedom plans a Fiona snow globe this summer. There will be a "Fiona's Cove" exhibit at next month's annual Cincinnati Home & Garden Show.

    Fiona the Hippo Debuts at Cincinnati Zoo

    [NATL-BAY] Fiona the Hippo Debuts at Cincinnati Zoo

    Fiona the hippo made her debut in Cincinnati on Thursday and seemed to take pure pleasure in wowing her spectators. Her audience was restricted to the media, but that didn't seem to stop her from putting on a show. The 4-month-old hippo swam, ran, and hopped her way into the hearts of those who were there to show her off to the world. The zoo staff kept in step as she got acclimated to a 9-foot pool in the hippo cove. Fiona was born six weeks premature in January and severely underweight at only 29 pounds. She's now a whopping 270-plus pounds and can hold her breath underwater for up to two full minutes. Zoo officials say she's gaining weight and strength, but she's not quite ready to make a public appearance. Caretakers are hoping she can be on exhibit sometime this summer.

    (Published Thursday, June 1, 2017)

    Also ahead: additions to the Fiona-themed T-shirts, cookies, ornaments, and even beer from tie-ins by local retailers who have shared an estimated half-million dollars in revenues with the zoo so far.

    Not everything gets green-lighted.

    "We've gotten some strange requests," said Chad Yelton, zoo spokesman.

    Left on the table: proposals to record music and make videos with Fiona, national toy company endorsements, a simulated space launch of Fiona, and a Texas library's invitation for her to pay a visit.

    Meanwhile, zoo staffers are working with Fiona on her transition toward more-typical zoo behavior, with training on responding to verbal cues and receiving grown-up health care from staffers aware that hippos can become aggressive and dangerous. Her bottle-feeding ended a few weeks ago.

    "We're treating her more like a full-time hippo and less like a part-time hippo, part-time human," said Christina Gorsuch, the zoo's mammals curator. Fiona will likely double in size in the next year from her current weight of nearly 700 pounds (318 kilograms).

    "But she'll still be her adorable self," Gorsuch added.

    A few steps away, adults raised their cameras and cellphones and children squealed as Fiona swam over to check out her latest throng of fans. "I love Fiona!" shouted 3-year-old Nolyn Hanley after she nosed near the glass where he had been watching for her with little brother A.J.

    The numbers speak volumes about her popularity:

    — Zoo attendance in 2016 was 1.63 million. In 2017, it rose to 1.87 million.

    — Views of the zoo's Facebook videos in 2016 totaled 8.85 million. From Fiona's birth on Jan. 24, 2017, to Jan. 2, 2018, they totaled 144.4 million.

    Some animal rights activists have expressed cynicism, saying the zoo is using a captive animal to boost its marketing.

    Baby Hippo Gets Playful With Her Dad Inside Zoo

    [NATL-MI] Baby Hippo Gets Playful With Her Dad Inside Zoo

    Fiona the Hippo was all kinds of cute as she played with her dad inside a pool at the Cincinnati Zoo.

    (Published Monday, July 17, 2017)

    Fiona came eight months after the May 28, 2016, shooting by a zoo special-response team of an endangered western lowland gorilla after a little boy fell into his enclosure. The death of Harambe spurred criticism of the zoo, while leading to satires and memes over social media that made the slain gorilla a pop-culture icon.

    Round-the-clock critical care, with an assist from Cincinnati Children's hospital personnel, helped the baby born Jan. 24, 2017, grow from a dangerously low 29 pounds (13 kilograms). The zoo kept up online updates through good days and bad, but as she continued to progress, the publicists signaled plans to cut back on the regular updates. That drew blowback from fans hungry, hungry for their "Fiona fix."

    After a year of it, Yelton doesn't expect the Fiona Frenzy to fade as she leaves her baby days behind.

    "She's still going to be Fiona," he said. "A superstar."