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TEKS: 6.10A, 7.11A, 8.8C

Saving Fiona

Zoo staffers worked night and day to keep a hippo born six weeks early alive

Courtesy of Cincinnati Zoo

Nile hippopotamuses usually give birth in shallow riverbeds. But if baby Fiona had been born in the water, it would have been a death sentence. Fiona came into the world about six weeks premature. Her mother, Bibi, went into labor in the early hours of January 24 at the Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio. 

Veterinarians and zoo staffers watched Bibi’s progress on a video monitor, careful to give the pregnant hippo her privacy. But soon after the birth, it was clear Fiona was struggling. The newborn couldn’t stand on her feet to nurse, and Bibi wasn’t sure what to do with her immobile preemie. 

Within an hour, zoo staffers knew they had to intervene. Although most new hippo mothers are incredibly—and sometimes violently—protective, Bibi seemed to understand that her baby needed help. The zookeepers wrapped Fiona up and carried her off to examine her. That was the beginning of Fiona’s incredible journey.

Nile hippopotamuses usually give birth in shallow riverbeds. But being born in the water would have meant death for baby Fiona. Fiona was born about six weeks premature. Her mother, Bibi, went into labor in the early hours of January 24 at the Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio.

Veterinarians and zoo staffers watched Bibi's progress on a video monitor. They were careful to give the pregnant hippo her privacy. But soon after the birth, it was clear Fiona was struggling. The newborn couldn't stand on her feet. Bibi wasn't sure what to do with her squirming preemie.

Within an hour, zoo staffers knew they had to take charge. Most new hippo mothers are incredibly protective. They can also get violent if they feel threatened. But Bibi seemed to understand that her baby needed help. The zookeepers wrapped Fiona up and carried her off to examine her. That was the beginning of Fiona's incredible journey.

THE SMALLEST HIPPO

“There wasn’t exactly a manual on how to raise a preemie hippo,” says Wendy Rice, the zoo’s Africa department head keeper.

But there is a lot of information on caring for other premature mammals—especially humans. Fiona had many of the same challenges as a preemie human does. She was small, by hippo standards. At 29 pounds, she was less than half the weight of an average newborn hippo. She was also cold. Premature babies have trouble regulating their body temperature. 

Cincinnati Zoo staff frantically placed calls to zoos and sanctuaries all over the world. No one had experience with a hippo so small. First, the zookeepers made a hippo-sized incubator to keep her warm in a small room directly over a boiler unit that was a cozy 100 degrees. Zookeepers would also snuggle with her to regulate Fiona’s temperature. 

Keeping her warm was just one problem. Because hippos are semiaquatic, their skin needs to stay moist. Normally, Fiona would have been in the water immediately. Instead, she was slathered with a special baby lotion at the suggestion of keepers at Thula Thula, a rhino sanctuary in South Africa that has experience with orphaned hippos. 

"There wasn't exactly a manual on how to raise a preemie hippo," says Wendy Rice, the zoo's head keeper for the Africa department.

But there is a lot of information on caring for other premature mammals, like humans. Fiona had many of the same challenges as a preemie human does. She was small, by hippo standards. Fiona weighed 29 pounds. That was less than half the weight of an average newborn hippo. She was also cold. Premature babies have trouble regulating their body temperature.

Cincinnati Zoo staff frantically placed calls to zoos and animal sanctuaries all over the world. No one had experience with a hippo so small. First, the zookeepers made a hippo-sized incubator to keep her warm. It was in a small room directly over a boiler unit that was a cozy 100 degrees. Zookeepers would also snuggle with Fiona to keep her temperature stable.

Keeping her warm was just one problem. Hippos need their skin to stay moist. Normally, Fiona would have been in the water immediately. Instead, they had to regularly apply lotion to her skin. This was a tip from keepers at a rhino sanctuary in South Africa that has experience with orphaned hippos.

Courtesy of Cincinnati Zoo

A veterinarian checks Fiona’s heartbeat a few days after her birth. Fiona also gets extra oxygen to help her breathe.

TINY VEINS

Being warm and moist with around-the-clock care was still not enough to stabilize Fiona. Luckily, the zoo staff was able to milk her mother in the early days. They sent the milk off to be analyzed for protein and fat content. But Fiona was struggling to drink from a bottle, even though it was a special hippo formula made just for her. 

When newborns won’t take milk, they can easily become dehydrated. A dehydrated human baby would be given fluids through tubes inserted into veins, called intravenous (IV) tubes. But Fiona’s tiny, fragile veins could not support the IVs inserted by the zoo’s veterinarians. 

They needed help once again, but not from the zoo community. “We called over to the Children’s Hospital,” says Rice. A team of nurses who specialize in veins came as soon as they could. They brought special equipment to find a vein deep in Fiona’s leg that could support an IV. It was in place for nearly three days, providing critical fluids. “They literally saved her life that day,” says Rice. “It’s been smooth sailing since then.”

Being warm and moist with around-the-clock care was still not enough to stabilize Fiona. Luckily, the zoo staff was able to milk her mother in the early days. They sent the milk off to be analyzed for protein and fat content. Then scientists made a special formula just for her. But Fiona was struggling to drink from a bottle.

Newborns can easily become dehydrated if they won’t take milk. A dehydrated human baby would be given fluids through tubes inserted into veins, called intravenous (IV) tubes. But Fiona's tiny, fragile veins could not support the IVs inserted by the zoo's veterinarians.

They needed help once again. But the zoo community couldn’t help this time. "We called the Children's Hospital," says Rice. A team of nurses who specialize in veins came as soon as they could. They brought special equipment to find a vein deep in Fiona's leg that could support an IV. It was in place for nearly three days, providing important fluids. "They literally saved her life that day," says Rice. "It's been smooth sailing since then."

Courtesy of Cincinnati Zoo

HUNGRY, HUNGRY, HIPPO

As Fiona grew stronger, she started eating more—a lot more. At 2 months, she drank about 2 gallons of formula a day! She tipped the scales at over 100 pounds and even munched on hay sometimes.

Fiona also had to learn how to love the water. In the wild, Nile hippos spend up to 16 hours a day in the water. She quickly went from a tub of water to a kiddie pool to a partially filled adult pool.

The water exercise wasn’t all fun and games. Hippos are technically incapable of swimming. Instead they bob in the water. When they sink, they use their weight to push off the bottom to return to the surface. “In the water they’re so athletic,” says Rice. “They’re an incredible blend of beautiful and awkward.”

Fiona also needed to get to know her mom. Bibi and Fiona didn’t have a chance to bond after her birth, so they don’t recognize each other the way a normal mother-baby pair of hippos do. In April they were ready to “howdy,” a zoo term for when two animals get to know each other by sight and smell with a protective barrier in between. By June, they began supervised visits in the same space. Fiona also got to explore the outdoor pool, which she will eventually share with her parents.  

As Fiona grew stronger, she started eating more. . . A lot more. At 2 months, she drank about 2 gallons of formula a day! She tipped the scales at over 100 pounds. Fiona would also munch on hay sometimes.

Fiona also had to learn how to love the water. In the wild, Nile hippos spend up to 16 hours a day in the water. She quickly went from a tub of water to a kiddie pool to an adult pool.

The water exercise wasn't all fun and games. Although they live in the water, hippos can’t swim. Instead, they bob in the water. When they sink, they push off the bottom to return to the surface. "In the water they're so athletic," says Rice. "They're an incredible blend of beautiful and awkward."

Fiona also needed to get to know her mom. Bibi and Fiona didn't have a chance to bond after her birth. They don't recognize each other the way a normal mother and baby do. In April they were ready to "howdy.” This is a word zoos use for when two animals get to know each other by sight and smell with a protective barrier in between them. By June, they began supervised visits in the same space. Fiona also got to explore the outdoor pool. She will eventually share this pool with her parents.

Courtesy of Cincinnati Zoo

HIPPO MATH

The zookeepers track all of Fiona’s milestones with meticulous math. Every day, they record how much she weighs, how much she eats, how often she exercises, and even how much she poops. By her first birthday, they expect Fiona to be on track for a young hippo at an impressive 1,000 pounds. It takes about three years for hippos to reach their adult weight of 3,000 pounds. 

The Cincinnati Zoo’s keepers have been overwhelmed by her stardom and the international support. “This experience has been so cool,” says Rice, “but I still would have never asked for this. We still wish we would have never had to lay hands on her.”

The zookeepers track all of Fiona's milestones with math. Every day, they record how much she weighs, how much she eats, and how often she exercises. They even track how much she poops! By her first birthday, they expect Fiona to weigh an impressive 1,000 pounds. That’s the same as an average hippo’s weight at that age. It will take another two years for Fiona to reach her adult weight of 3,000 pounds.

The Cincinnati Zoo's keepers have been overwhelmed by her stardom and the international support. "This experience has been so cool," says Rice, "but I still would have never asked for this. We still wish we would have never had to lay hands on her."

Write and evaluate expressions based on data about baby Fiona and her parents. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

Write and evaluate expressions based on data about baby Fiona and her parents. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

A. The average newborn hippo weighs 83 pounds, but Fiona weighed f pounds. Write an expression to find how much less Fiona weighed at birth than the average hippo.  

B. Evaluate the expression: Fiona weighed only 29 pounds at birth.    

A. The average newborn hippo weighs 83 pounds, but Fiona weighed f pounds. Write an expression to find how much less Fiona weighed at birth than the average hippo.  

B. Evaluate the expression: Fiona weighed only 29 pounds at birth.   

A. In April, Fiona received 77 ounces of milk at each feeding. She was fed m times per day. Write an expression to find how many ounces of milk Fiona was fed per day. 

B. Evaluate the expression: She was fed 5 times a day. 

A. In April, Fiona received 77 ounces of milk at each feeding. She was fed m times per day. Write an expression to find how many ounces of milk Fiona was fed per day. 

B. Evaluate the expression: She was fed 5 times a day.

A. When she was 2 months old, Fiona weighed 101 pounds. She gained x pounds over the next week. Write an expression to find Fiona’s new weight. 

B. Evaluate the expression: Fiona gained 12 pounds during that week. 

A. When she was 2 months old, Fiona weighed 101 pounds. She gained x pounds over the next week. Write an expression to find Fiona’s new weight. 

B. Evaluate the expression: Fiona gained 12 pounds during that week.

A. Fiona’s parents, Henry and Bibi, each produce p pounds of poop every day. Write an expression to find how much waste is produced in d days by the 2 hippos.  

B. Evaluate the expression: Henry and Bibi each produce 44 pounds of poop daily. How much do they create in 14 days? 

A. Fiona’s parents, Henry and Bibi, each produce p pounds of poop every day. Write an expression to find how much waste is produced in d days by the 2 hippos.  

B. Evaluate the expression: Henry and Bibi each produce 44 pounds of poop daily. How much do they create in 14 days?

A. In May, zookeepers added grain to Fiona’s diet. She was eating c cups of grain per day. Write an expression for how many days a supply of 120 cups of grain would last.

B. Evaluate the expression: She ate 1.5 cups of grain per day in May.

A. In May, zookeepers added grain to Fiona’s diet. She was eating c cups of grain per day. Write an expression for how many days a supply of 120 cups of grain would last.

B. Evaluate the expression: She ate 1.5 cups of grain per day in May.

A. At 3 months, Fiona weighed 167 pounds. Write an expression to find Fiona’s weight if she were to gain 20 pounds each week over the next w weeks.

B. Fiona’s first birthday will be 40 weeks after her 3-month weigh-in. Evaluate your expression from 6A to find what her weight will be at her first birthday.

C. An average hippo weighs 1,000 pounds by its first birthday. Using your expression from 6A, how many pounds per week would Fiona need to gain to reach this goal weight? Explain how you found your answer.

A. At 3 months, Fiona weighed 167 pounds. Write an expression to find Fiona’s weight if she were to gain 20 pounds each week over the next w weeks.

B. Fiona’s first birthday will be 40 weeks after her 3-month weigh-in. Evaluate your expression from 6A to find what her weight will be at her first birthday.

C. An average hippo weighs 1,000 pounds by its first birthday. Using your expression from 6A, how many pounds per week would Fiona need to gain to reach this goal weight? Explain how you found your answer.

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