Bibi the Hippo Is Due Any Day Now

Cincinnati Zoo keepers say Bibi isn’t in active labor yet, but she is showing signs that she may be getting ready to deliver her calf.

Update, August 4: Great news! Bibi gave birth to her second calf Wednesday night, and Zoo officials released the first video of mom and baby Thursday morning. Learn more about the Zoo’s newest bundle of joy here.

Update, August 3: After Bibi showed signs of restlessness in her habitat possibly indicating labor Tuesday, the Zoo’s care team says the hippopotamus is not in active labor just yet.

“At this point, we can’t say she’s in active labor, but we do think she’s getting closer to that,” said senior hippo caretaker Jenna Wingate in a Facebook Live update Wednesday, adding that the 24-hour care team will continue watching for signs of labor. Those signs include Bibi choosing not to eat food or get out of her pool, rolling on her side, holding her tail away from her body, and other movements that shows signs of discomfort.

“We’ve seen some of those things from Bibi, but mostly she’s just resting today,” Wingate says. “Fiona and Tucker are enjoying their time out here as usual and doing really well together, so we’re thankful that Tucker has been a great addition in keeping Fiona company through all of this as Bibi chooses to spend some of this time alone.”

Original July 11 story below:

The world’s most famous hippo is about to become a big sister. Bibi, the mother of 5-year-old Fiona, is now on birth watch at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Keepers shared in a July 1 Instagram post that according to Bibi’s last ultrasound, the fetus is already bigger than Fiona was at her time of birth. The Zoo Volunteer Observer team will be keeping an eye on Bibi overnight until she goes into labor.

Photograph courtesy the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens

The Zoo announced Bibi’s pregnancy back in April with a photo of her ultrasound of the unnamed baby—we don’t know the gender until the calf is born. Hippos have a gestation period of about eight months (lucky them). The new calf will be the second hippo born at the Cincinnati Zoo in the past seven years, and the zookeepers are, understandably, looking forward to the arrival.

“It’ll be crazy to have four hippos here, and I’m very excited to see how Bibi does with this calf,” says Jenna Wingate, senior hippo caretaker. “The whole zoo is very excited. I get a million questions a day about Bibi being pregnant.”

The zoo’s last hippo calf, the famous Fiona, made headlines around the world when she arrived six weeks premature in January 2017, weighing just 29 pounds. Zookeepers worked around the clock to help her survive, and even brought in nurses from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to help.

Today, Fiona’s a social media star and weighs just over one ton—about as heavy as a Smart car. The photogenic hippo plays an important role in promoting the zoo, and her new sibling will no doubt join her in attracting thousands of visitors every year.

The world-famous Fiona is anything but camera-shy.

Photograph courtesy Kathy Newton

Angela Hatke, digital engagement and publicity manager for the zoo, says she’s interested to see how a more normal birth for Bibi goes. “[Hippos] normally have their calves in water, and Fiona just happened to be born on land and we don’t know why Bibi made that decision, but I think that’s interesting,” says Hatke. “I’m very excited for the baby hippo, I can’t wait to share daily updates about it!” 

Bibi’s diet currently consists of 20 pounds of Timothy hay, five pounds of grain, and 20 pounds of produce every day. Wingate says that while many pregnant women experience “cravings” for particular foods, there’s no way to know if Bibi is going through the same because, well, she can’t tell us if she wants pickles and ice cream.

“So far her diet has not changed; once she’s lactating and the baby is here, then we will definitely increase her diet at that point,” says Wingate.

Zookeepers are also monitoring Bibi’s progesterone levels daily through her saliva, and giving her a progesterone supplement to ensure the calf is big and strong. Keepers will be able to make baby formula if needed, as they collected samples of Bibi’s milk while Fiona was nursing and sent it off for study. Like humans and other mammals, hippo calves nurse for about eight months.

Fiona’s mom Bibi is due to have another calf by mid-August.

Photograph courtesy Kathy Newton

“Other than giving her that supplement, we have all of our baby proofing up still from Fiona, so there’s not a whole lot we need to do,” says Wingate. “[The Smithsonian Zoo] analyzed [Bibi’s milk], told us exactly the protein and fat and carb content, so now we have that and we can share it with the world…and we’ll have that on hand if we need it.”

The baby’s father is 19-year-old Tucker, who came to Cincinnati last year from the San Francisco Zoo with a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan. Wingate says the criteria was based on Tucker and Bibi’s genetic history as well as his previous living situation at the San Francisco Zoo.

Tucker the Hippo takes a dip at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Photograph courtesy Michelle Peters

“Tucker had been alone for 10 years….so just for better quality of life, that was one of the reasons he was brought here, and then based on genetics and the fact that he had sired one calf and Fiona was Bibi’s only calf,” says Wingate. “We try and keep that genetic diversity really wide, and that keeps us from having to ever bring animals in from the wild again.”

Once Bibi gives birth, keepers will leave her and the new calf to bond together, away from Tucker and Fiona. The public will be able to see Bibi and the new calf once Bibi seems comfortable with it, says Wingate.

“It could be a couple of days to a week, most likely, or it could be a month down the road, just seeing how she does,” says Wingate.

Tucker was born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida in 2003, while Bibi entered the world in St. Louis in February, 1999. While it’s hard to tell if Tucker and Fiona know Bibi is pregnant, for now the family of three is continuing to play and nap together, and enjoy their favorite foods like lettuce, squash, and watermelon.

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