Hippo Photo Goes Global

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Jay Parker and Otis at the San Diego Zoo

When Jay Parker and his wife, Lauren, visited us here at the San Diego Zoo, they hardly thought that the trip would launch them into celebrity status. But that’s exactly what happened when they took these photographs in front of the Zoo’s river hippo exhibit. The Parkers each took a turn posing in front of the glass, with Otis, our 34-year-old male hippo, right on the other side. Zoo visitors take similar photos every day, but at this particular moment, Otis was facing the glass, exposing some teeth, and actually looked like he was smiling! The picture has since gone “viral,” and people all over the world have gotten a kick out of Otis and his goofy grin.

Otis smiles for Lauren, too!

When the exhibit opened in 1995, we knew that it would offer a very unique viewing opportunity for our visitors: being able to see the hippos in their underwater world. But we never really expected that the hippos would also get a great deal of enjoyment from watching these odd human creatures. Now, obviously, hippos can’t really smile in the traditional sense, but there is no doubt that they can, and sometimes do, interact with guests through the viewing glass. There seems to be no real rhyme or reason as to when or why they choose certain people (it’s usually the quiet ones), but they do. And when they do, it can be a very special feeling. It is exactly this connection to nature that we hope all of our guests will experience, for connecting with nature is the best way to ensure people will do what they can to help conserve and protect our natural world.

With this in mind, the San Diego Zoo has implemented its “Active Zones.” As our guest, you are not just a passive observer; throughout the day, you have an opportunity to chat with keepers, view training sessions, and perhaps even get involved in enrichment activities! In addition, you never know when you may get to meet one of our animal ambassadors as they go for a walk around the grounds. And who knows, maybe you’ll have a unique moment like the Parkers did.

Nate Schierman is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Fleeting Youth.