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Oldest hippos

(August 26, 2006)

It's said hippos can live for 30 - 50 years. But there are also exceptions that survived much more years and we can count with that the age will increase in modern breeds. I decided to check the internet and find out some old hippos.

Living hippos

Rosl / Rosi (47)

A female from Gelsenkirchen Zoo belongs to five oldest female hippos in Europe and is the oldest female hippo in Germany. She was born on December 28, 1958, in Karlsruhe Zoo.

She came to Gelsenkirchen on May 13, 1981, already pregnant. Then she had 12 more babies with her new mate Ernie who's her brother and possibly also her son. Because other hippos are undesirable, Rosl and her three colleagues get contraceptive pills.

Rosl suffers from arthritis so she rather toils along her exhibit. But she still performs graceful movements under water. She's very tame letting her keepers clean her mouth or scratch her tongue.


Mary / Meri (49)

A female from Kaliningrad Zoo, Russia, is probably the oldest European female hippo. She was born in July 1957 and reputedly has had 25 offspring during her life!

Bertie / Bert (50)

A male from Denver Zoo in Colorado, USA, has recently celebrated his fiftieth birthday. The zoo organized a five-day celebration in his honour.

Bertie arrived in Denver on December 16, 1958. At that time, he was two years old. He was born on August 21, 1956, in Central Park Zoo in New York but they didn't want another hippo and the city sold him in an auction for $2,450. The buyers were Arthur E. and Helen Johnsons, pioneers in the development of Denver Zoo. They arranged the transport of Bertie to Denver which received its very first hippo. Upon seeing young Bert in New York, Mrs. Johnson said: "He has a lot of personality and will make a fine addition to the zoo." A fine addition indeed - the young hippo became a media sensation and his arrival was impatiently anticipated. Throughout all the years, Bertie has been one of the most documented animals at Denver Zoo and has been featured in numerous stories in the daily papers.

Bert has had just two mates in his life and is the father of all 29 young born in the zoo.


Blackie (52/53)

A male from Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in Ohio, USA, was born in the wild, in Tanzania, in 1953 or 1954. He arrived to Cleveland Zoo on October 22, 1955 after spending some time in the zoos of Hanover and Gelsenkirchen.

An official celebration of his fiftieth birthday took place on October 21, 2004. Blackie got pumpkins instead of a cake - one for each decade of his life.


Deka (54)

A female from Ishikawa Zoo in Japan, whose name means "Huge" in translation, is the oldest hippo in the country. Her past is partially covered with mystery, even the exact date of birth is unknown but she's presumably 54 years old. So she was born in 1952.

As a celebration of her longevity, the zoo is planning a special exhibition about her eventful life. But even hours of research weren't successful enough to discover all big mysteries.

Deka arrived in Japan in 1953. At that time, she was about one year old and was called Kabako ("Baby hippo"). She was bought by Kabaya Foods Corp. based in Okayama. The company's data say that the hippo was born in the wild (i.e. in Africa) but also that she comes from Germany. This first mystery of her life hasn't been anyhow explained so far.

In 1953 and 1954 she travelled through whole Japan with a campaign of the Kabaya Foods company. She went in a caravan equiped with a tank for water. In the following years, she was transferred several times - in 1955 to Ikeda Zoo in Okayama, in 1956 to former Itoz Yuen in Kita-Kyushu and in 1962 to former Kanazawa Zoo. There she was renamed to Deka. She has been living in Ishikawa Zoo since 1999 when the zoo took over the activities of former Kanazawa Zoo.

And what is the secret behind the longevity of the female hippo who is called Grandma Deka by all the visitors? Great appetite and attentive care given to her by her devoted keeper for more than 10 years. After Deka eats, her keeper even thoroughly cleans her teeth and washes her snout!


Donna (55)

A female from Evansville Mesker Park Zoo in Indiana, USA, was born on July 16, 1951. Her respectable age makes her be the oldest living hippo in the world. She's already outlived her mate and all 8 offspring! She's been living in Evansville Zoo since 1954 when she arrived from her birthplace in Memphis.

Donna suffers from arthritis which often damages hippos because their short legs and knees have to carry too much weight. Donna's keeper John W. Stuteville attributes her longevity to good care and also surroundings - she has to use a steep exit from her pool, which keeps her active. Every morning Stuteville says hello to Donna with food that often includes two oranges, a tomato, a sweet potato, an apple and two bananas.

They care well for Donna even in other ways. Her pool is kept between 24 and 27 degrees and is drained every day. Fresh, warm water is flowing into it 24 hours a day. When her water heater once broke up and there was a threat that the temperature of the water would rapidly drop, the hippo celebrity received help from local firemen. They brought more than 10,000 litres of warm water to Donna and saved her from cold pool.


Non-living hippos

Zuzana (+ 52 ?)

A Czech-German legend. She came to Prague Zoo from blitzed Berlin in 1944. She's said to have been born in 1925 but her file wasn't preserved so we'll never know her exact age. Zuzana is likely to have been the mother of Knautschke, the most famous German hippo, in Berlin but it's not certain for the reasons mentioned above. She died on May 17, 1977, at the age of about 52 years, she had to be destroyed.

Cleopatra / Cleo (+ 52)

A female from Honolulu Zoo in Hawaii, USA, was born on October 09, 1955. She arrived in the zoo on February 04, 1958, and spent all her life there. She had just one calf, a female, which unfortunately didn't survive. According to Cleo's keepers, she was the fifth oldest living hippo in the US.

Honolulu Zoo had two more females besides Cleopatra. When they arrived in the zoo, Cleo harassed them and so they did the same to her towards the end of her life. That's why she went to the pool on her own only for night. The keepers let her out at half past four p.m., the zoo is closed at five.

Cleopatra was put to sleep on September 20, 2008 - she couldn't even stand and suffered a lot. She was almost 53 years old.


Jukichi (+ 53 ?)

A male from Nagoya Zoo used to be the oldest hippo in Japan. His accurate date of birth is unknown but the zoo claims he died at the age of 53. He came to Japan from Kenya in 1952.

Together with a female called Fukuko, Jukichi sired 19 young and about 60 % of hippos in Japan are his descendants. When Fukuko died of age in 1997, Jukichi lost his appetite and was gradually withering away. In March 2001, his keepers began to hand-feed him and give him nutritional supplements. He died on April 16, 2001. A funeral open to the public was held in the zoo.


Submarie (+ 53)

A female from Topeka Zoo in Kansas, USA, was born in 1953 in Milan, Italy. She was transferred to New York's Bronx Zoo on August 30, 1956, and on to Topeka on October 20, 1977. For 29 years, she lived together with another female hippo Peka Sue, born in 1961 and coming to Topeka in 1966.

Submarie wasn't suffering from any disease except for severe arthritis which she was receiving medication for in the last few years. However, on October 25, 2006, her keepers noticed she was circling the pool at her exhibit and wasn't looking very well. They drained the pool and the hippo laid down. Zoo vets immediately provided her with help. Despite making progress by mid-day, Submarie died late in the afternoon.


Bulette (+ 53)

A female from Berlin Zoo, Germany, was born on April 03, 1952, in Leipzig Zoo. She arrived in Berlin on May 15, 1953, and sired many offspring there. Because she mated even at high age her keepers were giving her contraceptive pills towards the end of her life. She had to be destroyed on December 31, 2005, due to bad health state after a hippo colleague had attacked her. Read more about her death here.

Tanga (+ 61)

A female from Munich Zoo was probably the oldest hippo ever. She was born in Leipzig on April 26, 1934, and came to Munich on October 11, 1941. She refused to eat as a result of a great heat wave in 1995 and had to be destroyed on June 12. She was 61 years, 1 month and 16 days old.


Czech old hippos

Roza (45)

The oldest Czech living hippo. She was born in Munich on June 20, 1961, and her mother was the oldest hippo Tanga. Now she lives in Ostrava.

Heini (41)

He was born in Zurich on September 21, 1965, but spent the major part of his life in Dvur Kralove Zoo, Czech Republic. Since 2002, he's been living in Belgian Antwerp.

Honza (39)

Born on July 20, 1967, in Cologne. Now lives in Ostrava.

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