Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Hippo arrives at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo from Chicago

KRISTINA IODICE Updated: June 5, 2012 at 12:00 am

Three isn’t a crowd when it comes to hippos.

Wicket, a 42-year-old Nile hippopotamus, is the newest resident at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. She arrived Monday to the exhibit shared by two hippos.

“Wicket was a little nervous when we opened the door to her crate,” said Tracy Thessing, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo animal curator. “But after a few minutes, she backed out and headed straight for the pool.”

The two longtime residents took the new arrival in stride, although “they seemed a little surprised to see another hippo in their area,” Thessing said.

Wicket will spend a month getting used to her new digs before she gets up close with sisters Zambezi and Kasai. Visitors can watch all three hippos, but there is a gate separating Wicket from the other two. Wicket can approach the sisters if she wishes, or she can ignore them, Thessing said.

After the quarantine month, Wicket will be carefully introduced to the two younger animals, and zookeepers expect at least some pushing and shoving.

“That’s just how hippos act,” Thessing said.

Zambezi and Kasai have been at Cheyenne Mountain for a long time, and their exhibit is one of the most popular, especially for the behind the scenes private tours.

“They’re huge, charismatic animals,” Thessing said.

The sisters were born at the Denver Zoo. Zambezi is a little older than 19 years old and arrived at Cheyenne Mountain in 1993. Kasai is a little over 12 years old and joined Zambezi in 2003. Their grandmother shared the exhibit until she died in 2008.

Wicket had been living with her father, who died in 2007. The conversation about Wicket’s move started in the fall.

“They’re really social animals, but they’re difficult to move,” Thessing said. “We’ve been looking for a third hippo for a while, but there aren’t a lot of surplus hippos.”

It was a long trip for Wicket. Trainers at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago put the shipping crate in Wicket’s enclosure earlier this spring so she could get used to it, and she earned treats such as melons for going into the crate on her own.

A special animal transport company loaded the crate into a giraffe trailer, and set out on the 17-hour drive from Chicago to Colorado Springs. A crane lowered Wicket’s crate into the hippo yard behind the aquatics building at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

The two zoos split the $10,000 cost. Usually the receiving zoo covers the entire bill, but Brookfield was happy that its hippo would finally have some company, Thessing said.

Nile hippos live in rivers and lakes in sub-Saharan Africa, and are considered one of the most dangerous animals because they are so territorial. Females can hit 3,000 pounds, and can run up to 30 miles per hour. They typically wallow during the day and spend the night grazing.

Males can weigh up to 8,000 pounds, Thessing said. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo doesn’t have the space or facilities to care for baby hippos, which is why it sticks to all-female pods.

“There are no proven methods of hippo birth control,” she said.

Hippos in captivity can live to be 50 years old, and they don’t eat as much as you might expect, Thessing said. Each hippo eats about 65 pounds of hay a day, plus some grain. Fruits and vegetables are treats.

While Nile hippos aren’t endangered, wild populations are decreasing. Zoo moves or exchanges are decided my steering committees that focus on the best environments for the animals for breeding and living, said Katie Borremans, zoo spokeswoman.

Contact Kristina Iodice: 636-0162 Twitter @GazetteKristina Facebook Kristina Iodice

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