COLUMN: My 57 magical minutes with Fiona, the Cincinnati Zoo's baby hippo

She's even cuter in person

CINCINNATI -- Hippo-loving people of planet Earth, I have seen the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden's adorable Fiona.

She is every bit as beguiling in person as she appears in the zoo's photo and video updates. Maybe even more so.

I know this because I was one of the lucky local journalists who got to take part in Fiona's after-hours media preview on May 31, and I mean it when I say lucky. There were practically fistfights at WCPO over this assignment.

I like to think I got to go because of my more than 25 years of experience as a reporter -- and possibly because I've been shamelessly geeking out over Fiona since the day she was born.

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Like any experienced reporter, I got to the zoo with plenty of options for the column I was expected to write afterwards. Would I focus on the behavior of grizzled journalists gushing over a baby zoo animal? Write about why it's important for Fiona to get used to having people watch her in Hippo Cove before her public debut? Or ask probing questions to try to uncover details about her life that the zoo had never shared?

All those plans unraveled within a few seconds. As I tried to position myself on the far end of her swimming area so I could get a good selfie for this column, I turned around to see her staring right at me.

Fiona smiled at me!

I melted at the sight of her lumpy, gray face and immediately collapsed into baby talk and kissy faces. My journalism school professors would be horrified.

But, hey, I have never pretended to be objective about Fiona.

From the day she was born six weeks premature on Jan. 24, I have been rooting for the little hippo just like hundreds of thousands of people across the world have been.

We all watched the video of her standing and then walking and then swimming around in a baby pool clouded by her own poop. It's been magical.

And seeing her in person Wednesday was even more magical.

Just a few minutes before 6 p.m., a representative from Mayor John Cranley's office read a proclamation declaring May 31, 2017 Fiona Day in the city of Cincinnati.

Within moments, Fiona walked outside surrounded by a team of caretakers and plopped into the Hippo Cove pool. She floated around and porpoised, torpedo-like, from the bottom of the pool to the water's surface. She made eye contact with me within minutes, and she seemed to enjoy all the commotion and cameras.

I overheard one of the caretakers tell another reporter that Fiona had not looked startled even once.

Lucy May's terrible selfie attempt with Fiona, who is barely visible on the right.

I say overheard because I did a terrible job of asking questions. I know from what I overheard that Fiona weighs about 275 pounds now. I can tell you that Fiona isn't quite ready for her public debut yet, but zoo staffers are hoping she will be soon.

She is doing well in her interactions with her parents, Bibi and Henry, but the zoo wants to be careful because she's still tiny compared to her mom and dad, each of whom weighs more than 3,000 pounds.

Fiona's primary caretakers said again and again that she has been exceeding all their expectations and was acting just like a normal hippo despite her very abnormal start in the world.

And they assured me I shouldn't be alarmed when I saw Fiona bonk her little head into a rock or appear to sink to the bottom of the pool like a potato.

I wish I could tell you more, dear readers. Her cuteness was just so darned distracting.

But I did get one piece of inside information hanging out with a zoo employee who claims to be one of Fiona's favorites.

Fiona kept shoving her face at the bottom of her pool in a way that looked like she was trying to move the dirt with her nose or eat some of the stuff on the bottom.

The zoo employee saw her doing that, too, and shouted through the glass: "Eat some poop!"

That's when I asked my only probing question of the evening: "Does she eat poop?"

"Sometimes," the zoo employee told me. "She likes poop."

So there you have it. Fiona sometimes likes to eat poop. That's the only scoop I have for you, and maybe it will gross some of you out.

But I thought it was darling, and I can't wait until I can take my daughters to watch Fiona eat some poop, too.

Lucy May was one of the last reporters at the media preview, making kissy faces at Fiona through the glass. Photo by Christine Charlson

Fiona is not yet on public display at the Cincinnati Zoo and won't be for a while longer. Zoo caretakers said it's important for her to get comfortable in the outdoor Hippo Cove habitat, and the media preview on May 31 was part of that process. The zoo will continue to provide updates on Fiona's progress on its website and Facebook page.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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