CINCINNATI -- March 7 was supposed to be baby hippo Fiona's birthday. Instead, thanks to a premature birth, it was her six-week anniversary of being part of the world -- and, the Cincinnati Zoo announced, it also marked the day she finally reached a healthy birth weight of 70 lbs.
As Fiona's health improves, Cincinnati Zoo hippo handler Wendy Rice said in a blog post she expects the calf to be introduced back to her parents, Henry and Bibi, within the next few weeks.
The trio will be placed in a "howdy" of adjacent enclosures so they can see, smell and adjust to one another without the risk of little Fiona being accidentally injured or becoming sick. Like any other baby, her immune system is more vulnerable than an adult's.
However, even once she starts getting to know mom and dad, it'll be a while before she's able to join them permanently.
Normally, Rice wrote, a mother hippo and her new baby will spend around 10-12 days away from the rest of the herd in order to bond with one another after the birth. Fiona was too small and sick to spend this period with Bibi, so it's possible they will not recognize one another as family members.
"Instead," Rice wrote, "(Fiona) may be viewed as just a new female hippo joining the group."
The good news is that neither male nor female hippos are known for being territorial toward other females, so even if Fiona's parents only perceive her as an adorable stranger, the zoo expects them to accept her into the herd without problems.
The biggest barrier to this interaction is simply making sure Fiona is healthy and independent enough for other hippos to become her day-to-day companions instead of zoo staff.
"As with all things Fiona, this timeline will not likely be set by any calendar dates," Rice wrote. "Instead it is much more important that we allow Fiona's health and physical abilities to set the pace in order to give her the best chance possible at a normal, happy and healthy hippo life."
Fiona has already beaten the odds by making it this far from such a fragile start. We'll be cheering for her as she takes her next step into a bigger hippo world!