'Saving Fiona': Cincinnati's fave hippo gets her own book

Thane Maynard penned a children's book chronicling Fiona's tale.

Jun 8, 2018 at 2:29 pm
click to enlarge Baby Fiona living her best life. - Hailey Bollinger
Hailey Bollinger
Baby Fiona living her best life.

Over the past year, Cincinnati has seen many new zoo babies, but none has gained as much acclaim and love than Fiona, a Nile hippopotamus.

And now, there's a book about the Queen City's emblem and social media darling. 

Through her unexpected entrance into the world and her fight for survival, Fiona may be the world’s most famous hippo. Her international fame led to Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden Director Thane Maynard’s decision to bring her story to life in the form of a children’s book, Saving Fiona, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

In the book, Maynard unfolds Fiona’s tale with a voice of care, warmth and excitement. Though it’s a children’s book, adults can uncover never-before-seen photographs of Fiona’s first year.

Fiona’s birth and early challenges in her life not only made headway in the news, but ultimately made educational breakthroughs about information not known widely about hippos or conservation.

Fiona’s mama, Bibi, was the first hippo to ever receive a sonogram. Though it seems small, many believed the thickness of hippos’ skin would make a readable image impossible.

“Well, we just tried it. And it worked; our team was able to get a reading of her umbilical cord and even her little feet,” Maynard says. Fiona would mark the first baby hippo in 20 years, but when Bibi started showing signs of labor two months earlier than expected the zoo staff began to worry.

“No one has ever cared for a premature hippo before,” Maynard says. “Hippos are usually born in the water, but since Bibi was a first-time mother she came up on the dry area to give birth. If she had not, Fiona would have drowned.”

From the moment of her unorthodox and terrifying birth, Fiona became an instant celebrity, but her fame came unconventionally.

Often zoos are reluctant to share information about animals in the midst of a health crisis, but the zoo opened up Fiona’s struggle to the public.

Maynard admits there were days where they did not believe Cincy’s young queen would make it through the night. While that contributed to her gain in media following, it also forged something deeper. The daily updates on Fiona’s condition created a relationship between the preemie and, not only the people of Cincinnati, but the world.

Through daily media posts, a seven-part reality series, and now a children’s book her journey has become a team effort.  

“It takes a village to raise a premature hippo,” Maynard says in the book. And, as Cincinnati proved, it does.

Many local businesses rallied behind Fiona, like Graeter’s with their  “Chunky Chucky Hippo” ice cream, Listermann Brewing Company with their “Fiona 1k” New England IPA, and Cincy Shirts “Feeling Hip” tees. These businesses donated a portion of the proceeds back to the zoo, since like every parent knows, taking care of a baby ain’t cheap.  

Now over 700 pounds, Fiona has achieved a healthy weight for her age and put her health crisis behind her.  But that does not mean Fiona will ever stop being a celebrity—her fame is here to stay.

So, what’s next for our reigning sovereign? Well, Maynard says Fiona gets to enjoy being a young and hip hippo.  But, in five years he says it may be time for her to find a boyfriend, Ou la la.

Maybe Timothy from the San Antonio Zoo will finally be able to shoot his shot. #HippoSwipeRight #TeamTimona  #TeamFiona #CallMe

Maynard will host book signings and discussions for Saving Fiona in a variety of locations and times around Cincinnati:

Monday, June 18 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, 3400 Vine St., Avondale; Wednesday, June 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Blue Manatee Books, 3094 Madison Rd., Oakley; Saturday, June 23 at 2 p.m. at Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, 2692 Madison Rd., Norwood.