Some days, it’s more like being a Hollywood star’s agent than a communications official for the zoo. That’s what happens when your prematurely born hippopotamus becomes a global celebrity.
The Cincinnati Zoo has a day of festivities ready for Fiona’s first birthday party Saturday, and expect plenty more of Fiona in Year 2.
Zoo director Thane Maynard’s own “Saving Fiona” will later this year join the growing library of books about her. The Cincinnati Reds baseball team will feature a Fiona bobblehead, and the minor-league Florence, Kentucky, Freedom plans a Fiona snow globe this summer. There will be a “Fiona’s Cove” exhibit at next month’s annual Cincinnati Home & Garden Show.
Also ahead: additions to the Fiona-themed T-shirts, cookies, ornaments, and even beer from tie-ins by local retailers who have shared an estimated half-million dollars in revenues with the zoo so far.
Not everything gets green-lighted.
“We’ve gotten some strange requests,” said Chad Yelton, zoo spokesman.
Left on the table: proposals to record music and make videos with Fiona, national toy company endorsements, a simulated space launch of Fiona, and a Texas library’s invitation for her to pay a visit.
Meanwhile, zoo staffers are working with Fiona on her transition toward more-typical zoo behavior, with training on responding to verbal cues and receiving grown-up health care from staffers aware that hippos can become aggressive and dangerous. Her bottle-feeding ended a few weeks ago.
“We’re treating her more like a full-time hippo and less like a part-time hippo, part-time human,” said Christina Gorsuch, the zoo’s mammals curator. Fiona will likely double in size in the next year from her current weight of nearly 700 pounds (318 kilograms).
“But she’ll still be her adorable self,” Gorsuch added.
A few steps away, adults raised their cameras and cellphones and children squealed as Fiona swam over to check out her latest throng of fans. “I love Fiona!” shouted 3-year-old Nolyn Hanley after she nosed near the glass where he had been watching for her with little brother A.J.