While Fighting The Odds, Fiona The Hippo Became A Social Media Star

Jul 24, 2017
Originally published on July 27, 2017 3:30 pm

Fiona the hippo was catapulted into social media stardom from the day she arrived on the planet.

The baby hippopotamus was born at the Cincinnati Zoo earlier this year. At the time, she was six weeks premature and weighed only 29 pounds. While that might sound like a lot, most baby hippos weigh between 55 and 120 pounds at birth.

Zookeepers were expecting her to arrive in March, so when she came into the world in January, they weren't sure she would make it. She received 24-hour attention from zoo staff and her health even became a citywide effort when workers from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical center helped put an IV in Fiona when she experienced dehydration.

Despite all the odds, Fiona proved the zoo staff wrong. She kept gaining weight and building strength, as her social media following continued to grow. Her loyal fans celebrated each milestone, from when she took her first steps to when she moved to bigger pools.

"We became consumed with all things Fiona," says Michelle Curley, social media manager for the Cincinnati Zoo. "We've done an update on Facebook every day since she was born."

While the zoo's accounts feature many other cute and lovable animals, Curley says Fiona's posts do especially well. Photos of the Fiona and her parents — Bibi and Henry — get thousands of retweets, likes and shares.

Because of such high engagement, Fiona has become the front-and-center star for the zoo.

"We started to focus on Fiona I would say 50 to 75 percent of the time," Curley says.

All that attention on Fiona has garnered overwhelmingly positive responses from the community, which is a big change from last year.

In May 2016, Harambe, one of the zoo's gorillas, was shot and killed after a child fell into his enclosure. After the incident, the zoo closed its gorilla exhibit for 10 days. That fall, it closed again for previously planned upgrades and has since reopened.

At the time, the response to Harambe's death caused so much backlash that the zoo temporarily shut down its Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Curley says Fiona helped turn the social media audience into a more cheerful crowd.

"The attention has continued, but it's been only supportive attention and positive, good news," she says. "That was a nice switch and quite a relief from what we'd experienced before that."

And let's just say, the zoo can expect more attention and a lot of birthday wishes because Fiona turns 6 months old on July 24 — and she's not the tiny calf she once was. Zookeepers say she weighed in at least 375 pounds at last count.

We hope she gets some birthday treats because she must be one hungry, hungry hippo.

Kevin Tidmarsh is a news assistant at Morning Edition.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now we have a story of super-fans. Beyonce has the Beehive. Rihanna has her Rihanna Navy. And then there's Team Fiona.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIPPO VOCALIZING)

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

That is Fiona the hippo.

INSKEEP: As if you needed to be told.

MARTIN: That's right.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

MARTIN: She's a baby hippopotamus who has catapulted to social media stardom. Fiona was born at the Cincinnati Zoo. She was six weeks premature and weighed just 29 pounds, half the healthy weight for a newborn hippo. Zookeepers were not sure she would make it. But Fiona grew. Michelle Curley of the Cincinnati Zoo says her social media following grew, too.

MICHELLE CURLEY: Well, we became consumed with all things Fiona. We've done an update on Facebook every day since she was born.

INSKEEP: All right, you may think that social media is completely consumed with just one news story. And you would be correct. But at the Cincinnati Zoo, that one thing is Fiona.

CURLEY: We started to focus on Fiona I would say 50 to 75 percent of the time.

INSKEEP: Which is a relief for the zoo because it's a better story than last year, when their social media was flooded with stories about the shooting of a gorilla.

CURLEY: The attention has continued. But it's been only supportive attention and positive, good news. That was a nice switch and quite a relief from what we had experienced before that.

MARTIN: So here's a news update on Fiona, that premature hippo, who was once just 29 pounds. She turned 6 months old yesterday - happy birthday, Fiona. And she was up to 375 pounds at last count.

(SOUNDBITE OF TEEN DAZE'S "DIVIDED LOYALTIES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.