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 to 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 as it underwent previously-planned upgrades. It reopened in June, more than a year later.
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 six 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.
Morning Edition’s Kevin Tidmarsh produced the audio version of this story.