CINCINNATI -- It's official: After a six-month saga of medical scares, false starts and a lot of improvised hippo-rearing, the Cincinnati Zoo says its hippos Fiona, Henry and Bibi are finally a fully integrated family of three.
"It feels absolutely amazing to be able to say that our sweet little Fiona has finally made it to this place," zookeeper Wendy Rice wrote on the zoo's official blog.
Rice posted Tuesday morning that Fiona's father, Henry, appeared to have totally overcome his initial wariness of the baby and accepted her as part of his family. The two struggled to bond when they were first introduced -- largely, Rice wrote, because Henry was out of practice at parenting.
Although mother hippo Bibi bonded quickly with Fiona despite their long months of separation, 36-year-old Henry had not interacted with a baby in 20 years when the zoo began introducing him to his daughter.
Rice wrote that Fiona's super friendly personality led her to remaining in Henry's personal space even when he displayed signs of discomfort and aggression, and zookeepers witnessed some discouraging interactions. Once or twice, Henry even put his mouth around Fiona's body and squeezed her to communicate that he wanted her to back off.
"Though Henry had never made any outright attempts to hurt Fiona, it was apparent to the care staff that he was not comfortable sharing space with the baby hippo indoors and he seemed really unsure of how to interact with her," she wrote.
They hoped the savior in this situation would be Bibi, who had strong enough bonds with both Fiona and Henry to "coach" them in their interactions with one another.
When zookeepers tried allowing the family to interact as a group of three instead of placing Fiona and Henry in their indoor enclosure together, it initially looked as though the situation would not improve. But on the third day, Rice wrote, everything changed.
"From the moment they greeted each other that morning, Henry seemed much more at ease and relaxed around Fiona," she wrote. "Instead of trying to discourage her interactions, Henry finally seemed to embrace them! He laid in a calm and relaxed position in the water with his belly exposed and his mouth held open wide for Fiona to investigate."
It's all been good news from there, according to Rice. The three members of the bloat are now comfortable enough to sleep, play and eat together, an the zoo is slowly extending the time they spend outdoors together as a family. Bibi continues to mentor Fiona, who has spent much of her short life being raised by humans, in the skills she needs to be a hippo, and both parents cuddle with her while they nap in the water.
"In spite of the many, many hardships Fiona has had to overcome in her little life, her fighting spirit and incredible will has helped her to prevail time and again," Rice wrote. "And in a world where there seem to be so many insurmountable problems, Fiona's story serves as a reminder to us all that humans are capable of some truly amazing things if we work together and dare to believe."