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OKC Zoo welcomes new hippopotamus just in time for Christmas

OKC Zoo welcomed a new pygmy hippo for Christmas.
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OKLAHOMA CITY- On Monday, the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden announced that, just in time for Christmas, it has welcomed a new pygmy hippopotamus to join Wolee, a 43-year-old male pygmy hippo at the OKC Zoo’s pachyderm habitat.

Francesca, nicknamed Franny, is a 26-year-old female pygmy hippo who was transported from the San Diego Zoo at no cost by FedEx as part of the FedEx Cares “Delivering for Good” initiative. Francesca arrived Saturday, Dec. 9, during the Hippo Holiday Sing-Along, featuring Gayla Peevey, the former Oklahoma City singer and child star who made the song "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" famous in 1953 when she was 10 years old.

“Hippos are an iconic part of the OKC Zoo’s legacy and we’re excited for Wolee to have a new companion in Francesca,” said Kevin Drees, director of animal collections. “Transporting animals from one location to another safely is a critical but costly endeavor. We are so grateful to FedEx Express for its logistical expertise and exceptional team members who brought Francesca to the OKC Zoo.”


In 1953, Peevey’s popular song was a hit nationwide, but even more so in Oklahoma City. Inspired by the song, Oklahoma’s children donated dimes in order to buy the Oklahoma City Zoo’s first hippopotamus, a Nile hippo named Mathilda. Again, that hippo arrived just in time for Christmas, and Franny’s arrival continues the tradition.

“It was such a joy to be a part of bringing the first hippo to the Oklahoma City Zoo in 1953,” Peevey said in a statement. “I never expected to play a part in announcing another hippo’s arrival 64 years later, but it’s been an absolute thrill to be involved with the Zoo all these years, to watch it grow and to see it thrive today.”

According to Drees, Franny’s arrival is due to the OKC Zoo’s participation in the Species Survival Plan through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which oversees the population management of select species within AZA member zoos to enhance conservation of species in the wild.

“We talked to the program leader, and about a year ago, Francesca was identified as a pygmy hippo that would be an appropriate companion to Wolee,” he said. “Wolee is the oldest pygmy hippo kept in an AZA U.S. zoo. He’s well past the median age, and we are expecting him to liven up a bit now that Franny is here.”

After the Zoo’s Nile hippos left in the late 1990s to live at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Wolee arrived in 1999 from the Cleveland Zoo. He and former habitat mate, Hope, had two offspring while at the Zoo including Howie, born in 2001, and Clover, born in 2004. Wolee spends his days relaxing in his wallow, lounging by the pool or taking a dip in the water. He enjoys investigating pool toys and sleeping on his cozy hay bed.

“Right now, we are currently keeping them separated for a bit, which is normal, but they can see each other,” Drees said. “Mating isn’t the priority for why Francesca was brought here. Franny has had some reproductive challenges, and Wolee is in the fall of his life, so it’s mainly about companionship.”

Pygmy hippos are currently listed as endangered with less than 3,000 in the wild. Although they do not have many natural predators, these shy animals are known to be hunted for their meat. They inhabit forests that are being burned and cut away at alarming rates due to logging and human encroachment, according to the OKC Zoo.

Pygmy hippos are also much rarer and less aquatic than their larger, common hippo relatives. With a median life expectancy of 27 years, they can be found alone or in pairs in the wild, ranging from Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. 

“This is why we transitioned from the Nile hippo to the pygmy hippo,” Drees said. “For one, our space is more suited for the smaller hippo, and the SSP needed more zoo sites to house the pygmy hippo.”


More than 300 visitors were on hand Saturday for the Sing-Along and to meet the zoo’s newest resident, said Candice Rennels, Director of Public Relations for the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden.

“She is already on display at our Pachyderm Building, and after the sing-along, we invited everyone down to the building to introduce her,” she said. “It was so wonderful to have Gayla back in Oklahoma City to celebrate with us. She is a very important person in our history, and the fact that we have her back again to introduce another hippo is a rare honor.”

OKC Zoo fans can help support conservation efforts by becoming ZOOfriends’ members. Membership dollars are used to fund the Zoo’s major conservation efforts. Zoo guests can also "round up" to the nearest dollar when making purchases each time they visit the Zoo. This Round Up for Conservation program generated more than $112,000 in 2016 and is on track to top that amount for 2017.

“I’ve often thought that a zoo is the reflection of a community, and Oklahoma City has showed support and long-term commitment, and I think that is what really makes our zoo and community so special,” Drees said.

Open year-round except for Thanksgiving and Christmas days. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Regular admission is $11 for adults, and $8 for children ages 3-11 and seniors ages 65 and over. Children 2 and under are admitted free. For more information, call (405) 424-3344 or visit

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