Cincinnati Wants A Hippo For Christmas

The Cincinnati Zoo hasn't had a hippopotamus for a long time, but it's building a new exhibit and hopes to acquire a breeding pair. It'll take another $6 million to bring the hippos home, so this year, zookeepers are singing "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" to raise the money. NPR's Rachel Martin talks to zoo director Thane Maynard.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

All the Cincinnati Zoo wants for Christmas is a hippopotamus.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANT A HIPPOPOTAMUS FOR CHRISTMAS")

CHORUS: (Singing) I want a hippopotamus for Christmas. If only a hippopotamus...

MARTIN: Thane Maynard is the director of the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. He joins me from Cincinnati to talk about the newest item on the zoo's wish list. Welcome to the program, Thane.

THANE MAYNARD: Rachel, thanks very much.

MARTIN: So, let's get right to it: why a hippo?

MAYNARD: Well, we're in the middle of our biggest exhibit we've ever built, which we're calling Africa. It's eight acres. It's $33 million. And so we need $7 million - about six million left really now - to finish our hippo pool. Actually, it's probably a $1 million pool and a $6 million filter, 'cause these guys are the third-biggest land animal in the world and they poop in the water.

MARTIN: So, you need to clean the water.

MAYNARD: Absolutely. Well, that's the point. What we're trying to do is have a great big wall of glass where families and kids could see hippos swimming in clear water underwater.

MARTIN: How much money does it actually cost to procure a hippopotamus and where do you get one?

MAYNARD: Today, very few animals are taken out of the wild anymore. So, in the case of hippos, we would get hippos from another zoo that had bred them. And we'd get a male and a female that were unrelated. So, we would, in essence, borrow them from two other zoos. And then we'd have a contract on when we have a baby, who gets first offspring, who gets the females; things like that.

MARTIN: Are there different breeds of hippos?

MAYNARD: There are. There are two different species. The small one comes from the Congo, and they're only about five or six hundred pounds. They're called the pygmy hippo as a result. What we are getting are the - common name is the Nile hippopotamus. And they can be over 5,000 pounds. Underwater, they're fantastic. They could hold their breath for a long period of time and literally walk along the bottom of a river. But they also are quite something up on land. They tend to only come out and stay out at night. That's because their favorite food is grass. Now, imagine a 5,000-pound herbivore eating grass. I mean, they can mow - mow - a field because they need a lot to eat.

MARTIN: You're going to have a contest to see who gets to name the hippos?

MAYNARD: You know, that's the funniest thing. Folks helped us get giraffes and named them after themselves. So, we opened the lion exhibit and gave, you know, millions of dollars and we named the lion John. With the hippo, we haven't found anybody who wants to name a hippo after themselves or their wife or whatever. So, we're working on that. Although Rachel is a heck of a good name for a hippo.

MARTIN: Yeah, Rachel is a great hippo name.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Thane Maynard, director of the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, host of the daily public radio series "90 Second Naturalist." I hope Santa was listening, Thane, and I hope you get your hippo.

MAYNARD: Thanks very much, Rachel. It was fun to talk with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANT A HIPPOPOTAMUS FOR CHRISTMAS")

CHORUS: (Singing) No crocodile, no rhinoceroses, I only like hippopotamuses. And hippopotamuses like me too. Yeah.

MARTIN: And this is NPR News.

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