Henry the Hippo will say farewell tonight (6/22) to the place he’s called home for 34 years. Dickerson Park Zoo will send him off to the Cincinnati Zoo this evening. How do you transport an animal that large? KSMU’s Michele Skalicky found out.
Henry’s grown a lot since he first came to Dickerson Park Zoo in 1982 from the San Francisco Zoo. Mike Crocker, director of Dickerson Park Zoo, remembers when they brought a baby Henry (less than a year old) to Springfield in a plywood crate in the back of a pickup truck. They’ll need more than that tonight when Henry heads off to his new Ohio home.
As we stood near the exhibit Henry currently calls home, Crocker said the zoo has borrowed a large steel crate, built for transporting rhinoceroses, from another zoo.
"And it's sized right and has the strength to move a hippo. What will happen is, and we have had it for several weeks now, so Henry has been conditioned to go in the crate to get fed, so he's used to going in and out of it, and when we load him we'll just bait him inside, close the door. And we have a crane and operator hired, and they will come in and actually lift the crate out of where it is now, swing it around and put it on top of a trailer," Crocker said.
The roughly 5,000 pound crate holding the roughly 5,000 pound Henry will be fastened into place, and two of Dickerson Park Zoo’s keepers will drive through the night to take the hippo to Cincinnati.
"When you're transporting animals, once you get moving you keep going. You only stop long enough to grab some food to go and to refuel when you need to," he said.
A large water tank has been mounted onto the trailer so keepers can spray Henry down during the transport.
Crocker, who’s been with Dickerson Park Zoo for 40 years, knows the move to Cincinnati—where the hippo will have a female companion from the St. Louis Zoo—is the best thing for Henry, so that makes the goodbye easier.
"We don't have the space in our facility here to have more than Henry, and he really needs to have other hippos, and because of his genetics, he's very highly desirable for breeding right now within in the hippo management program," he said.
Cincinnati Zoo officials hope baby hippos will be in their future.
It won’t be the first time Henry will be called “dad.” When he first arrived in Springfield he had a female companion named Patsy whom the zoo acquired from Buena Vista Exotic Animal Paradise.
When Patsy arrived, the old elephant exhibit at the zoo was turned into a new hippo exhibit with a new building , hippo pool and outside area.
According to Crocker, Henry and Patsy had several offspring, only one of whom survived. Patsy, he said, died several years ago.
Lots of kids and some adults stopped by Henry’s exhibit Tuesday to say goodbye to their hippo friend. One was Angie Harrell who remembers when Henry came to Springfield because that was the day her daughter was born. She had mixed feelings about seeing him go.
"Bittersweet because I'm sure he'll be happy in his new place," she said.
Henry’s new home will be much nicer than the one he’s in now. It will be much larger for one thing, and it will have underwater viewing and filtered and heated water, which the Dickerson Park Zoo hippo exhibit doesn’t have.
Crocker said he’s been looking for a better home for Henry for several years despite his popularity.
"He's probably the single most popular animal with our guests, so we're all going to really miss him, but it's really going to be the best thing for Henry and the best thing for the hippo management program," he said.
Dickerson Park Zoo was contacted by the person who oversees the hippo management with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to see if they’d consider moving Henry and pairing him with a female. Crocker knew this was the best thing for their hippo.
When he arrives in Cincinnati in the early morning hours tomorrow, his female companion will be waiting for him—she arrived a few days ago.
As children stood above the hippo pool this week at Dickerson Park Zoo, there were lots of farewells.
Henry responded in the way only a hippo can.