Devi, Cover Girl


Five-month-old Devi is a bundle of energy with a personality all her own!

Have you seen the August 2015 ZOONOOZ? Hippo calf Devi is the “cover girl”—complete with a model-like, pouty lip. Devi is now five months old and has been growing in both size and personality. It wasn’t that long ago we were straining to get a glimpse of the shy, skittish calf tucked under the chin of Funani, her almost 3,500-pound mom. Nowadays, Devi is doing underwater barrel rolls and cartwheels while Funani tries to keep up! Often, Funani rests her big head on her calf’s back to keep her still, if only for a minute. But if Devi isn’t ready to settle down, she wriggles free to go on to her next adventure.

Some of you might wonder: “When is this happening? Every time I go see them, they are sleeping.” Hippos are naturally nocturnal, meaning they are active at night. Here at the Zoo, the best time to see them active is after they’ve finished breakfast in the barn and go back out to the exhibit—usually right as the Zoo opens—and then later in the afternoon. But keep in mind that, depending on their mood and weather, they can be active anytime.


Devi often likes to get right up to the window to watch the visitors.

If you witness one of their active times, you will see Devi’s personality shine. There is only one word to describe her: sassy. She often ventures up to the glass to gaze at the visitors while Funani gently nudges her to move along. Then, if they pause on a ramp or a rock, she might initiate a play session with mom. Devi will start with a quick head toss that turns into a nibble on her mother’s ear or mouth and then, ever so gently, Funani opens her large mouth (exposing those enormous teeth) and thus begins the session.

These sessions are teaching Devi valuable life lessons on how to maneuver if and when she has to fight, but for us onlookers these sessions are sweet and smile inducing. Their play sessions on land are something to see, too! Mostly, it’s Devi trying to check out everything around her as she head tosses, nose bumps, bounces, and pivots all at a pace much quicker than Funani who is trying to make sure her “little one” doesn’t get into trouble. It is common to see or hear Funani snort at Devi if she needs to reign in the sass. You can “see” the snort when they are in the water—it’s when a rush of large air bubbles suddenly come from Funani’s nostrils. If you watch closely, you’ll see Devi will change her tune after a snort from mom…usually.

Funani and Devi are scheduled to be in their habitat on Hippo Trail Tuesdays, Thursdays, and weekends. As always, the schedule is subject to change depending on their needs, but try to come by and see the sassy sweetie soon!


Jennifer Chapman is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous blog, Hippo Birth: A Private Event.


Heeere’s Devi!


Our river hippo calf has a name—say “hello” to Devi!

The river hippo baby announcement many have been waiting for finally came on May 12: “It’s a girl!” We named her Devi, in honor of Dave Smith, a zookeeper and a friend to both animals and humans. We (hippo keepers along with several volunteers) had been doing our best to see the calf’s belly to determine gender since her birth on March 23, 2015. It took nearly two months to determine without any doubt that she is a girl. We had caught glimpses here and there, but as you can see in the photos with this blog, she has a few wrinkles. And while they are adorable, those wrinkles often hide certain characteristics we look for in determining a calf’s gender.

For the past two months, we have been watching Devi grow into her wrinkly skin—and develop quite a personality! While she is often shy, hiding by her mom’s head and tucked under the plants, she is also starting to get more comfortable with this whole being-a-hippo-thing, and it is magical to watch. The connection she has with her mom is amazing. Funani is constantly teaching little Devi: how to maneuver through deeper water, how to get in and out of the pool in different spots, even how to interact with keepers. The first time Devi approached me at their barn stall gate was due to a gentle push from Funani; oh, how my heart melted!

As Devi continues to gain confidence she is becoming more curious of her surroundings. But she always sticks close to mom, just in case. Sometimes, she reacts to a sound, movement, etc. and runs back to mom, but if Funani wants to use that as a teachable moment, you might see her nudge Devi back to that area.


Fun and learning with Mom leads to naps in the sun.

Now, the hippos’ neighbors have definitely not gone unnoticed by Devi. The okapi and black duikers that live on the other side of the fence have all been quite curious about their new little neighbor. When Funani and Devi are on the beach, you will probably see the okapi and black duikers peering from their side. The first time she spotted the youngest okapi, Subira, Devi opened her mouth towards her and made a few hops in her direction. Subira didn’t budge, probably trying to figure out what was wrong with this little thing, and Devi retreated to mom.

These great interactions along with watching Funani mold Devi into a wonderful river hippo are the perfect reasons to come visit them at the exhibit on Hippo Trail in Lost Forest. Of course, keep in mind that all that exploring and activity requires lots of naps, and as nocturnal animals, many hippo naps take place during the day. But if you are patient or have perfect timing you can be in for quite a treat! Currently, Funani and Devi are on exhibit Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Devi’s father, Otis is on exhibit Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but please keep in mind that this schedule is subject to change.

Jennifer Chapman is a senior keeper at the Zoo. Read her previous blog, Hippo Birth: A Private Event.


Hip, Hip, Hooray for Hippopotamus Born at San Diego Zoo

The newest river hippopotamus at the San Diego Zoo is just a few days old and already has an online following. The calf was born on Monday, March 23 at 6:30 a.m. with animal care staff observing. Mother Funani has had the main hippo exhibit to herself the last two weeks in anticipation of the calf’s birth.
     Mom and baby are doing fine and animal care staff witnessed the calf nursing on several occasions. Funani, who is 30 years old, has raised four other hippos at the San Diego Zoo – three females and most recently a male, named Adhama, born January 26, 2011. The sex of the newest calf has not yet been determined, as keepers and vets have not been able to get a close enough look at the animal.
     Hippo calves are estimated to weigh about 50 pounds at birth and they typically nurse for about eight months. The baby will likely stay very close to Funani during the first several weeks.
     The hippopotamus is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, known as the IUCN. The primary threats to hippos are illegal and unregulated hunting, for meat and the ivory found in the canine teeth, and habitat loss. Hippos can still be found in a number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
     “If people come out to view the baby, patience will be rewarded,” said John Michel, senior animal keeper at the San Diego Zoo. “Guests may have to wait sometimes as long as half an hour, but the calf will wake up and start moving to deeper water, and mom will start to push it back up to shallow water.”
     Guests interested in seeing the hippo calf should also check out the activities happening during the Zoo’s annual Play Days celebration. Starting Saturday, March 28, the event, themed “Be Spotted,” will highlight the Zoo’s plants and animals with spots of all sorts,including the jaguars in Elephant Odyssey, the serval near the African rock kopje, and spot-necked otters and spot-nosed guenons in the lower Ituri forest area. Animal keepers, horticulturists and zoo staff will help connect the dots about spots and share information about the importance of these markings for camouflage or as diversions from predators, and how sometimes the spots serve as a warning to other creatures.
     Dr. Zoolittle will debut his new show exploring spots and dots, and the Zoo’s costume characters will be at the Koalafornia Boardwalk for meet-and-greets with guests. And new this year, The Sand Band will keep toes tapping with their musical fun.
     Say carrots! The Easter Bunny will also be returning to the San Diego Zoo, March 21 through April 5, 2015, and guests can hop on the lap of Peter and Paula Cottontail, who will trade off taking photos in the basket-shaped photo booth in front of Skyfari East.
     While guests are visiting during Play Days, they’re encouraged to interact with the Zoo on social media by taking their photo at designated selfie spots located around the Zoo and tagging them with the hashtags #sdzselfiespot and #sandiegozoo. Or visitors can enter the Spotted Photo Challenge by submitting their best photos of the Zoo’s spotted animals on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #sdzspots.
     Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is made accessible to children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

Inspired by Zoo Babies

A newly hatched Satanic leaf-tailed gecko

In light of the new babies born at the San Diego Zoo, we thought we would share how the unique adaptations inherited by these young Zoo representatives can inspire new inventions. This process of taking inspiration from nature’s forms and functions is called “bioinspiration” or biomimicry.

The first 2011 baby born (hatched!) at the Zoo was a tiny satanic leaf-tailed gecko. Along with the morpho butterfly and the lotus leaf, geckos are ranked among the icons of biomimicry. For years people couldn’t figure out how geckos stuck to surfaces: they don’t create a vacuum with suction cups like some frog species, and they don’t leave a sticky residue like snails. It was finally figured out that geckos have millions of tiny hairs on their footpads; these hairs then split into millions of tinier hairs. It’s these teeny tiny hairs that form a weak interaction, called van der Waals forces, with the surface. These weak interactions add up to a super-strong adhesive force that allows the gecko to stick to almost any surface. Working together, scientists and engineers have created a robot that is able to climb walls using a synthetic gecko foot pad.

Takin calf Wushi

Another new member of the Zoo family includes a baby takin named Wushi. Takins, like the okapi, seem to be a mix of a bunch of different animals: horns like a wildebeest, a nose like a moose, and a body like a bison. Of course, all these “borrowed” body parts are all part of the takin’s evolutionary history. Takins can offer many clues as to how to protect from the cold. They have not just a primary but also a secondary coat that keeps them nice and insulated. That moose-like nose contains large sinus cavities that warm up the cool air before it passes to the lungs. They also secrete an oily substance from their skin that prevents water from being absorbed, keeping takins warm and dry in their snowy mountain habitat. With all of these inspiring adaptations, perhaps Wushi will be the face of the next big heating and insulation company!

River hippo Funani and her newborn boy.

Our most recent big (and I mean big) baby is the child of river hippos Otis and Funani. He has inherited the capability to secrete what is known as “blood sweat.” Hippo blood sweat, despite being secreted from the skin and having a rosy pigmentation, is actually neither blood nor sweat. This “mucous” substance is capable of absorbing ultraviolet light to act as a natural sunscreen. It also serves to keep the hippo moist and infection-free, even in dirty river water. This unique adaptation could provide clues to improving sun protection and antibiotics.

Zoos provide a wonderful setting for practicing bioinspiration. Plants and animals from all over the world are represented within zoo gates, with new members being added constantly! Next time you’re at the San Diego Zoo or Safari Park, pay a visit to our babies and think, “What can I learn from you?”

Dena Emmerson is a biomimicry research assistant at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Biomimicry History: 19th Century Spain. Be sure to visit the Biomimicry section of our Web site for more information about this exciting field of study.


Baby Hippo!

Congratulations, Funani and Otis!

After a rocky first start to their relationship (see Hippos: Big Love), river hippos Funani and Otis are now proud parents! On January 26, 2011, at about 11:30 a.m., Fu gave birth to a bouncing, baby…hippo. Hippos are a notoriously bellicose species, especially mothers with calves. Fu is no exception; therefore, we have been unable (as of yet) to definitively sex the little one. San Diego Zoo veterinarians have gotten a good visual and determined that our newest addition is healthy and doing well. This comes as no surprise, since this is Funani’s fourth offspring. It is, however, her first calf with Otis. The genetic pairing is a boon to the zoological population.

While motherhood is old hat for Funani, this is my first opportunity to work with a hippo calf and a chance for the two of us to learn a lot together. After just a few days, the little one has already learned tons. Unlike other neonates, hippo calves need to learn how to walk AND swim. In fact, this youngster was born in the shallow water of our river hippo exhibit, in front of a very excited audience of guests and employees, and immediately swam around to mother’s loving face. Soon, mother Fu was nudging the little one up onto the beach to take its first wobbly steps.

Boy or girl?

Nursing is another tricky task. They can, of course, nurse on land like other youngsters of the African wilderness, but they can also nurse underwater. Hippo calves can’t hold their breath for very long, though, and must come up for air pretty often.

The calf has learned to strictly obey mother’s rules and warnings. This is crucial for survival in the wild. When something strikes Mom as suspicious or dangerous, she communicates with the young one using short, but stern, grunts. You can bet there is also a great deal of infrasonic (ultra low-frequency) communication as well. The Zoo’s okapis (which also communicate through infrasound) have been paying a lot more attention to their neighbors these days. One could surmise the new voice of the calf is what has got them rapt.

Most recently, mother and calf have started venturing into the hippo barn. After three days on exhibit, there was quite a bit of clean up for us. But soon we had the pair back out for our guests to enjoy.

Funani has demonstrated herself to be a very dedicated and gentle mother. She can maneuver the kid around with the slightest of prodding from her huge snout and is very careful to know exactly where baby is before taking a step or lowering her massive frame.

So, what about dad? Unfortunately, male hippos are not the most trustworthy of parents. So, to be safe, we went ahead and separated Otis and Fu well before we determined she was due to give birth. For now, Otis is being held off-exhibit in our barn, where he has his own pool to laze around in.

We have yet to get a weight on this calf, but newborn hippos can weigh between 50 and 100 pounds (23 and 45 kilograms). Generally, they are fully weaned after six to eight months. So, come get a glance quickly, for it won’t be long before the youngster is a multi-ton leviathan like its parents!

Nate Schierman is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Hippo Photo Goes Global.


Enormous Changes for Hippos

Jabba at the San Diego Zoo

Jabba at the San Diego Zoo

On January 24, 2009, one of the San Diego Zoo’s “biggest” attractions was relocated to another facility. After nearly 15 years in San Diego, Jabba, a 25-year-old bull river hippopotamus, now calls the Los Angeles Zoo his home. Funani, the resident female hippo, remains, and joining her, from Los Angeles, will be Otis, a 33-year-old bull. Jabba and Otis were moved on the same day. But exactly how does one move a 10-foot, nearly 5,000-pound animal with 5-inch canines?

Step one:
Find a very large crate.

Step two:
Get the hippo used to being in the crate.

At first, Jabba was a little uncertain about entering the crate, and who could blame him? But with the sparkling water tempting him on the other side, it wasn’t long before Jabba braved the first step and finally walked through the crate. After several days, going through the crate was of no consequence.

Step three:
Add sturdy bars to one side of the crate.

Now that Jabba was used to passing through the crate, it was time to up the ante. The metal bars that would help secure him during shipment were put in place. Jabba’s diet (a mixture of hay and herbivore pellets) was placed inside the crate. After little hesitation, Jabba entered and began happily munching away.

Step four:
Close the door.

Once Jabba got used to the idea of spending time in his crate instead of just passing through it, it was time to see how he dealt with losing the option of exiting on his own volition. At this point, Jabba entered the crate and began eating his meal, per usual. Then, the hydraulic door was closed behind him. Jabba hardly noticed. He was steadily left in the crate for longer and longer periods, until he was comfortably remaining in there for as long as 1½ hours (nearly as long as the trip to Los Angeles would be).

We spent about two months readying Jabba for his move. At the same time, the dedicated keepers at the Los Angeles Zoo worked diligently alongside our efforts to ready Otis for his trip. However, there was little we could do to prepare either hippo for the sensation of being raised into the air and loaded onto a flatbed truck. In spite of this, the loading process went relatively smoothly. Lead Keeper Harold Steyns, Senior Keeper Aimee Goldcamp, and I joined Jabba on his trip. During the transport, Jabba showed little, if any, signs of distress.

Jabba's first dip at the Los Angeles Zoo

Jabba's first dip at the Los Angeles Zoo, his new home

Once at the Los Angeles Zoo, Jabba was hoisted, by crane, up and over the wall into his new enclosure. The procedure went incredibly well! Once released, he immediately took to the water, doing several laps, exploring his new environs. For a brief moment, he stepped out of the pool for a quick snack, but soon returned to the water. It seemed apparent that Jabba was going to enjoy his new home.

Jabba heads for a snack

Jabba heads for a snack

Jabba has been a staple of the San Diego Zoo for a long time. (Read his profile, Hooray for Hippos!) During his stay, he has entertained thousands of people with his antics and shared a lot of love with his keepers. He has even sired three offspring. So, one might wonder, why move him? Animal moves are a common thing in the zoo world. There are many reasons, but probably the most common reason is to promote genetic diversity among the zoo population. As I said earlier, Jabba has already fathered a few babies. His genes are well represented. But Otis does not have any surviving offspring, so his genes have not yet been introduced to the zoo population. We have an opportunity to potentially mate him with Funani and stoke the managed-care gene pool for the entire species!

We have a long way to go before this can happen, though. Otis has undergone a period of quarantine and is now slowly been introduced to Funani (through a protective barrier). The next step will be a face-to-face meeting, and we hope they hit it off. If they do, there is still an eight-month gestation period. But never fear; I will keep you abreast every step of the way!

Nate Schierman is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.