What happens when Fiona leaves human care? The Cincy Zoo explains

Posted at 6:10 PM, Mar 22, 2017

CINCINNATI -- The journey of Fiona, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden’s preemie hippopotamus, is an underdog story anyone can love.

But seeing Fiona raised by humans instead of her parents has a lot of fans wondering what happens when it’s time for her to return to the herd of hippos.

Hippo handler Wendy Rice wrote Wednesday that Fiona has formed social bonds with the care staff there, as opposed to her mother. Fiona feels comfortable around the staff and seems to enjoy their companionship.

It’s likely she will feel positive toward humans for the rest of her life, but it shouldn't impair her ability to live with other hippos in the future.

"The good news is that her special bond with people should not significantly impact how she interacts with other hippos in the future, who will likely be viewed as friendly neighbors sharing space and resources," Rice wrote, adding that most wild hippos are friendly toward one another but not deeply social. "In terms of integrating her into a bloat of hippos, her untraditional team of moms should not negatively impact her transition."

If there is danger in Fiona's upbringing, Rice wrote, it's the danger that a 3,000-pound adult Fiona might want to snuggle and play with her caretakers the same way she did as a 50-pound baby.

For example, many of the adorable pictures and videos the zoo has posted show Fiona tossing her head with her mouth wide open. This could mean a number of things to other hippos, but could prove dangerous to humans. Aside from the risk of getting whacked by a grown hippo's head, Fiona will someday have a jaw that can apply more than 1,000 pounds of pressure -- not exactly the right tool for delivering a love bite.

Similarly, it's obviously unsafe for a grown hippo to try napping or laying on her human keepers the way Fiona has done in her few months of life.

Fiona has never shown deliberately aggressive behavior toward humans, Rice wrote. She might never do so.

However, hippos are considered very dangerous animals, and when she begins transitioning, a protective barrier will be required between keepers and animals. This means that even though Fiona has been sharing space with care keepers, known as free contact, eventually she will managed with protected contact.

As cute as she is now, the healthiest thing for everyone is making sure she learns to behave like a wild hippo -- not a snuggly pet.

"Moving forward, it is in Fiona’s and the care team’s best interests that we begin focusing on transitioning Fiona into the bloat with Bibi and Henry and helping her become a healthy and well-adjusted hippo!" Rice wrote.