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Cheyenne Mountain Zoo welcomes first male hippo in more than 30 years

Biko was brought to the zoo in hopes that he will mate with their two female hippos.
Credit: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — There's a new hippopotamus at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (CMZoo), and he has a job to do.

Biko was brought to CMZoo from Florida on a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Nile Hippopotamus Species Survival Plan.

If all goes well, the 17-year-old will father baby hippos with the zoo's female hippos, 27-year-old Zambezi and 20-year-old Kasai. 

But CMZoo has a system for gradually introducing the animals and making sure they're comfortable with each other before any mating takes place.

The female hippos returned to Colorado Springs in May after spending some time at a facility in Missouri while CMZoo's new exhibit, Water's Edge: Africa was being built. 

Now, the girls are getting comfortable with their new surroundings.

“We’ve been working on letting the girls spend time together until they show us they’d prefer a little time apart,” said Patty Wallace, senior lead keeper at Water’s Edge: Africa, in a release. 

“They’re spending more and more time together, but still seem to want time away from each other to appear totally comfortable in their new home. With the arrival of Biko, who is smaller than the females, the dynamics could completely change. Only time will tell. We will watch their behavior closely, and let them tell us what the next steps are.” 

Credit: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

After Biko clears quarantine, the release said, the hippo keeper team will use a variety of underwater and above-ground gates to give the hippos opportunities to have their own spaces and also participate in "howdies," which are introductions with barriers between the animals. This allows the animals to smell, see and approach each other safely, according to the release.

“We always look for signs that the animals are confident during ‘howdies,’” said Wallace. “If they show us they feel uncomfortable, we help them see that they are in control by giving them the choice to walk away. They are always making the choice to interact with another animal or not. If we see signs that the two animals are comfortable and confident with each other, we move on to introductions in a shared space, usually for small increments of time that increase slowly.”

This makes the first attempt to breed hippos at the zoo in more than 30 years. CMZoo's last male hippo, Tony, passed away in 1989. None of the hippos currently at the zoo has ever produced offspring, according to the release.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List categorizes Nile hippopotamuses as a species vulnerable to extinction in the wild, estimating less than 150,000 remain in their native habitats. Their primary threats are habitat loss and illegal and unregulated hunting. Hippos are hunted for ivory and meat. 

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In addition to the three hippos, Water's Edge: Africa features 11 African penguins, two common warthogs, three ring-tailed lemurs, and about 30 guinea pigs.

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