OKC Zoo Saddened to Announce Death of Pygmy Hippo, Wolee - Second Oldest Pygmy Hippo in North America

The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is saddened to announce that male, pygmy hippopotamus, Wolee, 45, was humanely euthanized on Friday, February 7, 2020.

Born in 1974, Wolee came to the OKC Zoo in 1999 from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and is the second-oldest pygmy hippo living in North American zoo populations accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).


The OKC Zoo’s veterinary and animal care teams had been monitoring Wolee for end of life care. He was showing signs of decline from age-related issues including arthritis and loss of appetite, and most recently Wolee was being treated for an abscess from a mouth infection. Wolee experienced some dental issues in his later years that required extended surgeries and innovative treatments to resolve. After multiple procedures to remove infected teeth and treat resulting abscesses, he was still having issues with mouth infections. Realizing that Wolee’s pain from his dental issues could no longer be mitigated with surgery or treatment, the veterinary and animal care teams made the difficult but necessary decision to humanely euthanize him. 

Pygmy Hippo Wolee credit Andrea Johnson

“Wolee was such an incredible animal and ambassador for his species who connected millions to caring for and conserving his wild counterparts, and he will be missed,” said Tracey Dolphin, OKC Zoo curator of hoofstock. “We are dedicated to providing the best care and welfare possible to the animals entrusted to us through all of their life stages, and it was an honor to care for Wolee in his senior years.”

Compared to animals in the wild, those in human care tend to live significantly longer lives, sometimes doubling life expectancy. According to the AZA, the median life expectancy for pygmy hippos is 26 years. Wolee’s long life is a testament to the excellent quality of care and welfare he received from the Zoo’s veterinary and animal care professionals.

It’s true, good things do come in small packages, Wolee brought big smiles to millions of Zoo guests for 21 years! He would spend his days relaxing in his wallow and lounging by his habitat pool. He also enjoyed investigating new toys and napping in his sand bed. In September 2019, hundreds of Zoo guests came out to celebrate Wolee’s 45th birthday and watch him enjoy a variety of enrichment items created for him by his caretakers.

Pygmy Hippo Wolee credit Andrea Johnson

The OKC 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. Wolee and his former habitat mate, Hope, had two offspring while at the Zoo including Howie, born in 2001, and Clover, born in 2004.

Pygmy hippos are currently listed as endangered, it is estimated there are around 2,000 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. They can be found alone or in pairs in the wild, ranging from Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. While they spend their days in wallows or rivers, at night they head out on land to forage for food.

Hippos have been an iconic part of the OKC Zoo’s history since 1953, and the Zoo is dedicated to having these popular pachyderms in its animal population. Plans are underway to include pygmy hippos in the Zoo’s next major habitat expansion, which will bring together species native to Africa and is projected to open in 2022.

Honoring this special hippo – the public is invited to leave memories and photos of Wolee on the Zoo’s social platforms and consider making a donation of $45 in honor of Wolee’s 45 years of life to the Zoo’s Round Up for Conservation Fund which supports wildlife around the world at okczoo.org.

Photo credit: Andrea Johnson

Share |
Search the site