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Someone Is Getting A Hippopotamus For Christmas
TOPEKA, Kan. – This December, Mara, a 10-year-old female hippopotamus at the Topeka Zoo, will be moving to another zoo.

Mara is leaving about a year earlier than originally planned. She came to Topeka in 2007 from the Ellen Trout Zoo in Texas. Two years later, a male hippo named Tucker arrived in Topeka from Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The happy couple had a bright future at the Topeka Zoo, because the hippo enclosure is just the right size for two hippos.

To ensure the population of hippos at our zoo stayed at two, Mara was fed an industry-standard contraceptive grain to prevent her from getting pregnant. But one day in August of 2010, a lump appeared on her belly.

“At first we were worried,” Zoo Director Brendan Wiley recalled. The next day the lump was slightly larger and the worry turned to dismay as staff realized they were witnessing the development of an udder. They quickly prepared for the zoo’s hippo population to go from two to three. A few days later, on August 20, 2010, Vision was born.

In researching why the contraceptive plan for Mara failed, zoo staff uncovered two other interesting bits of information. In 2003, a male hippo named Tucker was born in Florida as a result of a contraceptive failure. In that same year, a female hippo was born at a zoo in Texas also as a result of a contraceptive failure, and that hippo was Mara.

While this string of failures was of great scientific interest to hippopotamus population managers, the Topeka Zoo had to deal with the immediate challenge of having one too many hippos. Fortunately, the San Francisco Zoo was opening a new Hippo experience and plans were made to transfer Tucker there. The shipping crate arrived. The goodbye party was planned. Then on moving day, Tucker decided he didn’t want to go. About a month later than planned, he flew to California via FedEx.

With a sigh of relief, zoo staff and guests were able to enjoy the relationship mother Mara and baby Vision had developed and thought that they would have four to five years before any other changes would be made with the zoo’s hippo program.

“Most reference points suggest that it is not before the age of five to seven years that male hippos begin to become reproductively fit,” Wiley said. “With changes that were noted in Vision’s behavior the past couple of months, and with this particular bloodline’s history with contraceptive failure, we decided we didn’t want to take any chances and we began the process of finding a new home for either Mara or Vision.”

With winter approaching, time was of the essence. As it turned out, another accredited zoo was looking for a female hippo. In efforts to not spoil the special announcement for that zoo, Topeka Zoo officials are not releasing Mara’s destination until after it has been announced in that community.

Mara is tentatively scheduled to leave sometime in the first ten days of December. Weather along the route will determine the exact date.

“We have been blessed to have had Mara at our zoo and as part of our community,” Wiley said. “With her laid back and patient personality, she is one of the best hippos I have ever been around.”

As for what is next with the hippo program at the Topeka Zoo, “We still have our Vision,” Wiley said. “Before we make any other changes, we will give hippopotamus reproductive science a little more time to advance.”

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