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Cincinnati Zoo's newest star, Fritz the baby hippo, turns one month old


He's 1 month old, goes by Fritz and weighs around 170 pounds. Baby hippo Fritz joins his family at the Cincinnati Zoo - mom Bibi, dad Tucker and sister Fiona, who won hearts after being born a preemie a few years back. Zookeeper Jenna Wingate is part of the team that cares for Fritz, and she's here to tell us all about him. I'm very excited. Hi, Jenna.

JENNA WINGATE: Hi. Thanks for having me.

RASCOE: So tell us about Fritz. What's he doing at this stage?

WINGATE: Yeah, he is growing really quickly, gaining anywhere from 2 to 4 pounds a day. So he's already doubled his birth weight. He's actually getting really brave and starting to wander off. And he's coming up to the window, just like his big famous sister Fiona does, and interacting with the people that come to visit us. So he's been growing really quickly. He's really healthy and a lot of fun.

RASCOE: So do baby hippos - do they spend a lot of time with their mothers? Or are they like, you know, attached to them like, you know, at the hip, figuratively?

WINGATE: Yes, definitely. So I was actually saying he's like Velcro to her. So his nose is almost always touching part of, like, one of her rear legs if they're walking. And otherwise, if they're in the water, he's typically right next to her. But like I said, he is starting to venture off a little bit, but he never gets too far, and he follows her wherever she goes.

RASCOE: So I thought that hippos swim, but I have heard that hippos do not swim. Was Fritz born knowing how to do whatever it is that hippos do in the water?

WINGATE: So it's funny because there is a little bit of a debate, but hippos, like, technically do not swim. They actually push off the bottom. Hippopotamus means river horse, so they'll actually walk along the bottom of the rivers. It's the mother's job as a hippo to help this calf come to the surface if they aren't in a shallow enough area. So one of the things that we were a little bit worried about was the fact that Fritz was born on land, and then he went into the water. So we were nervous when he was actually going in there, even though they're typically born in water. But Fritz came out into our big outdoor pool, which is about 9 or 10 feet deep in the middle. And he was able, when he was just a few weeks old, to push off from the very bottom and get to the top, take a quick breath, and then go back down. But if you were to put them in, like, a 40-foot pool and they couldn't push all the way to the surface, they would not be able to get a breath. So we say they can't swim, right? They can't swim themselves to the surface.

RASCOE: Oh, OK. I did not know that.

WINGATE: They can doggy paddle a little bit, but yeah.

RASCOE: How do you introduce a hippo to its family? And then I also want to share that I found out that a group of hippos is called a bloat. Is that true?

WINGATE: Yes. That's correct.

RASCOE: (Laughter) So how do you introduce a baby hippo to a bloat?

WINGATE: So that's a good question. And it's definitely something that we've been trying to handle delicately and allowing Bibi to have her space. But also, we do want them to be all together as a bloat of four here soon. So what we did was we gave Bibi about two weeks on her own. That's what they would do in the wild. They would leave the bloats that they live in and kind of seclude themselves into a shallow, safe area and then spend about two weeks after the baby is born bonding. And then slowly, we started having Fiona kind of go what we call nose-to-nose with Bibi and Fritz, and we allowed them to have just a gate between them. And so Fritz would walk up to Fiona. And the very first time, Bibi kind of stopped him and was like, no, I'm not ready for this, and Fiona backed off. And we've just been taking it slowly, doing, you know, a couple hours each day. It's taking a little bit of time, but we just want to make sure whatever they need is what we do.

RASCOE: Jenna Wingate is a senior keeper at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Thank you so much for joining us.

WINGATE: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LUNA'S "THIS TIME AROUND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Mia Estrada
Mia Estrada is a 2021-2022 Kroc Fellow. She will spend the year rotating through different parts of NPR, including the Culture Desk, National Desk and Weekend Edition.