CINCINNATI — Baby hippo watch is on at the Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio, as caretakers said the expectant mother has begun to show signs of labor on Wednesday.
Zoo officials said they don't believe she'll give birth right away but that her baby Fiona could become a big sister soon.
The baby's estimated due date is August 15. Still, caretakers said a hippo's birth window could be 30 days before or after that estimation — meaning Bibi's baby becoming born as early as now or as late as September 14.
"So far Bibi has chosen to stay in the pools inside today, which is a good sign that she's getting closer," said zookeeper Jenna Wingate in a live Facebook announcement on Wednesday. "She hasn't really had much to eat today, which is another sign that we're looking for a behavior that's different for her. She's usually very food motivated."
Zoo officials said earlier in the week that Bibi had begun showing signs of restlessness and a desire to spend more time indoors, which are indications that she's close to giving birth.
When born, Bibi's calf will be a full-term hippo, unlike Fiona, whose story of survival captured not just Cincinnati's heart, but much of the world's. Zoo staff had hoped to avoid replicating Fiona's difficult journey with her sibling and have been engaged in ensuring Bibi can give birth with as few concerns as possible.
Part of insuring her calf's health has been a regular procedure most human moms experience — ultrasounds.
Those ultrasounds were able to show veterinarians and the care team that Bibi's calf has been growing. In fact, on June 9 with about eight weeks to go, the calf was about the same weight Fiona was when she was born. Ultrasounds showed that the baby's heart was beating well — even the fluttering of the calf's feet.
Considering Fiona premature entrance into the world, these ultrasounds are also teaching veterinarians and the care team about a hippo's gestation.
The zoo wasn't quite prepared for Bibi to get pregnant so soon, but Bibi and Tucker, a hippo brought to Cincinnati from San Francisco, hit it off right away after he was introduced to Hippo Cove in September 2021.
“We weren’t planning to welcome a baby this soon, but nature found a way and ignored our calendar,” said Cincinnati Zoo’s director of animal care, Christina Gorsuch, in April when Bibi's pregnancy was announced. “Most forms of contraception, in hippos or humans, (are) not 100% reliable. The dose that was previously effective for Bibi did not prevent pregnancy this time.”
The Cincinnati Zoo's Volunteer Observer team started their birth watch of Bibi at the start of July, keeping an eye on the hippo daily during a video stream.
She's been under 24-hour watch since the start of July as staff prepares for the pinnacle moment, which could happen any day now.
This story was originally published by WCPO in Cincinnati, Ohio.