On Wednesday, June 27, Oklahoma City Zoo veterinary staff conducted a full exam of female pygmy hippopotamus Francesca, 26, after caretakers observed decreased appetite, lethargy and signs of severe abdominal pain. During the exam, they discovered Franny had dental disease with possible bacterial infection and three teeth were removed. Her remaining teeth are significantly worn which is normal for her age. She was also treated for colic (severe intestinal inflammation) and IV fluids, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs were administered.
She will remain in her indoor habitat for about a week to heal. Her caretakers will be monitoring her closely and providing supportive care as she recovers.
Francesca spent her first nine years at the Rome Zoo in Italy before relocating to the San Diego Zoo in 2000. Her arrival at the OKC Zoo in December 2017 was announced by Gayla Peevey, the singer who brought “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” to life, at the Zoo’s annual Hippo Holiday Sing-Along. In 1953, Gayla’s popular song inspired a statewide fundraising drive encouraging Oklahoma’s children to donate a dime to buy the OKC Zoo a hippo for Christmas. It was a successful campaign that resulted in the Zoo’s first hippo, a Nile hippopotamus name Mathilda, arriving in time for Christmas that year.
Caretakers describe Franny as confident and calm with a love for carrots, yams, cucumbers and apples. In addition to Francesca, Wolee, a 43-year-old male pygmy hippo, also resides at the Zoo’s pachyderm habitat. Wolee has called the OKC Zoo home since 1999 and is the oldest pygmy hippo in a United States zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
Pygmy hippos are currently listed as endangered with less than 3,000 in the wild. Although they do not have many natural predators, these shy animals are known to be hunted for their meat. They inhabit forests that are being burned and cut away at alarming rates due to logging and human encroachment. Pygmy hippos are also much rarer and less aquatic than their larger, common hippo relatives. With a median life expectancy of 26.3 years according to the AZA, they can be found alone or in pairs in the wild, ranging from Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast.
The Oklahoma City Zoo participates in the AZA’s Pygmy Hippo Species Survival Plan, a cooperative, long-term management program designed to maintain genetically viable and geographically stable populations of specific species.
Photo credit: Andrea Johnson