CINCINNATI -- Visitors to the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden may be able to see adorable baby hippo Fiona starting this summer.
If all goes well in the near future, Fiona could make her public debut this June, according to blog post by Wendy Rice, one of her zookeepers.
For that to happen, Fiona will first have to adjust to being outside near crowds of people, as well as near her parents. The little hippo calf was born six weeks premature early this year, and she was born with a weakened immune system.
Because of her fragile status, the zoo has kept Fiona sheltered away in the company of a small group of keepers who have helped feed her and teach her the ropes of bopping around in a pool, away from crowds of onlookers and her parents, Henry and Bibi.
Now that Fiona has grown beyond premie size, her keepers have slowly begun introducing her to her parents, keeping them separated by "howdy barriers" that allow them to observe each other but not directly interact, according to Rice. So far, Bibi and Fiona have had mixed reactions to each other, but they have slept on opposite sides of the two barriers, which Rice wrote gave the care team "hopeful optimism."
The next step will be to remove a space between the "howdy barriers" to Fiona can get nose-to-nose with her parents, according to Rice.
"Every night, the hippos will have an opportunity to interact with each other safely and on their own terms, and the hope is that this nightly interaction will help establish familiarity and comfort with one another until Fiona is ready to share the same space as the adult hippos," Rice wrote.
Zookeepers are also planning to help Fiona get used to the outdoor space and increased numbers of human visitors by taking her outside after hours and introducing her to growing numbers of zoo employees to help make her comfortable with large crowds, according to Rice.
"It is absolutely crucial that we move forward at her pace and not our own," Rice wrote. "Our end goal is and always has been a transition to a happy and healthy hippo life for Fiona, regardless of the amount of time and effort it may take."