Zoo staff: Raising Fiona has been a 'rollercoaster'

Posted at 12:59 PM, Feb 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-21 13:18:16-05

CINCINNATI -- Raising Fiona, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden's premature baby hippopotamus, has been "more of a rollercoaster than we could imagine."

That's what Wendy Rice, the head keeper for the zoo's Africa department, wrote in a blog post Monday.

The zoo has been caring for Fiona around the clock since her early birth on Jan. 24. She weighed just 29 pounds, well below the weight of a typical newborn hippo. 

Lately, an IV has helped improve Fiona's condition and she took two bottles Tuesday morning. She became dehydrated late last week and zoo staff needed help from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center's Vascular Access Team to give her fluids via an IV.

The IV gave Fiona a big boost and she showed more energy Tuesday. She got up and moved around with help from the zoo's caregivers. She was still receiving fluids via the IV.

Fiona has taken in five bags of fluid since her IV was inserted Friday. Photo courtesy of Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.

With relatively little information and few resources available on caring for preemie hippos, the zoo staffers have faced many challenges in helping Fiona live and grow, according to Rice's post. Working in a room kept at 90 degrees, Fiona's caregivers must rub lotion on her skin every hour to keep her skin moist, as hippos typically spend 16 hours per day in the water.

MORE: Meet the zoo researcher whose first-of-its-kind ultrasound helped bring us Fiona

Providing Fiona with the nutrients she needs has also been a challenge, according to Rice's post. She was born too weak to nurse, and was initially fed via a feeding tube. Her mother, Bibi, was not producing enough milk, so the zoo had to work with the National Zoo to come up with a formula for synthetic hippo milk, which staffers continue to tweak in order to make it acceptable for little Fiona's delicate digestive system.

While new problems pop up, Fiona has improved. Rice wrote the zoo would continue providing updates for everyone concerned for Fiona's wellbeing. 

PHOTOS: Click here to see all of Fiona's progress 

"Many of Fiona’s loving fan base have asked when our little lady will be out of the woods, but the answer to that question is both complex and varying," Rice wrote. "For now, we take it day by day and hope for more good days than bad. We will continue to update everyone on her progress moving forward and we thank you all so very much for the astronomical love and support you’ve shown us so far."