Happy Trails, Zoo’s Hippo Heads West

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The National Zoo has been doing some remodeling. Their 163 urban acres are undergoing an internal expansion of the elephant exhibit. While this new layout means more ponds for the animals to bathe in and a greater selection of leaves for the creatures to chew, it also means having to say goodbye to one of the zoo’s best-loved animals, "Happy" the hippopotamus.

Happy, the National Zoo’s only Nile hippo was born on Jan. 4, 1981. The staff named him for the "Happy New Year" they had just celebrated. Nile hippos can live up to 45 years in the wild and often longer in zoos, and this one has lived there for his entire 28 years. However, on September 28th, a team of zoologists drove the 5,500-pound hippo 800 miles across the country to the Milwaukee County Zoo.

Happy was transported in a spacious custom-made, steel-framed and lumber-lined crate. The staff has been with work with Happy since March to acquaint him with the travel procedure. He was trained to enter and calmly remain in the crate, un-sedated for the journey. The five-ton crate housing the enormous hippo was lifted onto the back of a flatbed truck by a construction crane. The flatbed left the National Zoo at approximately 9:35 a.m. (arriving in Milwaukee just after 3 AM this morning) and was followed by a car with two animal keepers and a veterinarian.

Zoo officials report that it took all of Monday to get Happy to his new home, but all went as planned, and the hippo doesn’t appear too dissatisfied at joining the Milwaukee zoo’s new multi-million dollar hippo exhibit, complete with two female hippos, Puddles and Patti, for companionship. John Taylor, Happy’s keeper of 15 years, predicts that the hippo won’t be getting homesick anytime soon with this kind of setup.

The zookeepers feel very differently. "We will miss him a lot. He is a force all his own, and everyone at the Zoo will feel his absence," say Zoo officials.

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