OT: National Zoo to exile Happy the Hippo

I’m going off topic here, but it’s good to mix in topics other than condos, crime and retail =)

I was skimming the Express on my metro ride earlier this week and saw a blurb about the National Zoo seeking a new home for Happy the Hippo. Unfortunate news for me. Anytime I go to a zoo the Hippos are my personal marquee attraction.

Later in the day I googled for the full story and found it on WaPo entitled Zoo’s Hippo Must Hit the Road.


Happy is not much to look at. He has stained teeth, tiny ears and he drools. He’s very large — like, slow-getting-out-of-the-pool large. And he’ll sneeze on you if you’re not paying attention to him. He gets away with this because he’s the National Zoo’s only Nile hippopotamus.

“The hippo space we currently have is going to become elephant space,” said National Zoo Senior Curator Brandie Smith. “We need to find a new space for Happy,” she said. “We want to make sure he goes to a place that’s well qualified to care for him”.

“The National Zoo is very strongly committed to [Asian] elephant programs,” Smith said, in part because the animals are endangered in the wild. “With zoos you only have so much space available…. We don’t have a strong hippopotamus program right now.

Hippo stats pour out of [zoo keeper JT]: how fast they run on land (25 mph); how fast they run in the water (10 mph); how much they eat (55 pounds of hay, grain and produce a day); how long they live (about 45 years in the wild, longer in captivity); how much time they spend in the water (18 to 22 hours per day); how their brains are smaller than a giraffe’s; and how, if they’re mad, they can “break you in half like a pencil.”

Drilling down into the comments section of the WaPo article you find a response from National Zoo director John Berry which includes:

“The Elephant House in which Happy is housed was built in the 1930s and is in dire need of renewal. In planning the renovation of the building and outdoor yards, we faced difficult decisions about how best to address the animals’ needs and what species we could accommodate in the new exhibit. We decided to focus on Asian elephants for several reasons. Not only are they are critically endangered but we have a decades-long commitment to Asian elephants through extensive research programs for this species, both at the Zoo and in the wild, whose goals are to ensure the best care for elephants in zoos and the species’ survival in the wild.

We did look into the option of building a new hippo exhibit. Initial research showed us that a new facility would cost between 35 – 55 million dollars. Hippo exhibits require complex pool and sewage systems in order to manage them sustainably. This expenditure simply isn’t possible for the Zoo right now with all the critical construction and renovation projects we have already identified within our five year capital plan.”

Holy sardines Batman! THIRTY-FIVE to FIFTY-FIVE million for a pool and sewage system?!? A million dollars definitely ain’t what it used to be.

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  1. 1

    si says

    I LOVE that hippo too. hes one of the true delights of the zoo dammit! something is wrong here cause right now that big hippo has a tiny funky pool, & a patch of dirt. he swims in circles all day. it cannot cost even a million dollars to recreate that wtf??