Cheyenne Mountain Zoo this week welcomed its first baby hippopotamus born at the facility in 32 years.

Zoo staff said the hippo baby "popped up from underwater" around 1:57 p.m. Tuesday in good health and weighing between 40 and 80 pounds. The baby appeared to bond well with its mother, Rachel Wright, the zoo's spokeswoman, wrote in a news release.

"It was a picture perfect labor process," Phil Waugh, the lead keeper for the hippos, said. "The baby came out, she (the mother) immediately turned around and they touched noses and started doing their ear flicks and investigating one another."

The mother, Zambezi, guided the baby around the water to find shallow spots where it could touch, Waugh said. Hippos are not naturally good swimmers, but they can hold their breath for long periods under the water.

Zambezi, a Nile hippo, came to the zoo in 1993 and mated with Biko, a male hippo, brought to the zoo in 2020. Zambezi's pregnancy and the baby's arrival were a surprise Tuesday because weight checks, ultrasounds and fecal samples were inconclusive.

"A couple days ago we noticed she was lying in a part of the pool that wasn't typically where she hangs out," Waugh said. "So that was a sign to us."

Zambezi spent nearly an hour and 45 minutes in labor. Since then, the baby has stayed right by its mother's side, nursing underwater and nudging Zambezi.

"We really started to see the relationship grow," Waugh said. "And we really saw her motherly instincts kick in as well."

The baby hippo's gender will remain unknown until a physical check is completed, which could take several weeks, zoo officials said.

"We have decided to take a pretty normal approach, which is hands off unless there needs to be some sort of veterinary intervention," Waugh said.

The baby hippo will be named in about a month, Waugh said.

Nile hippos are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's "Red List," which means the species is vulnerable to extinction in the wild.

"It is an exciting new start to this entire exhibit," Waugh said. "It's a sign for our team that we built a really amazing home for these hippos. A place where they feel like they can create their own families, and we hope to see that more in the future."

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