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Call Her Professor Fiona: Baby Hippo An Educational Force

The combined Fiona library of books by various authors and illustrators has sold tens of thousands so far.

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In this Tuesday, June 26, 2018, photo, Fiona, a baby Nile Hippopotamus sleeps as visitors stop by her enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden in Cincinnati.
In this Tuesday, June 26, 2018, photo, Fiona, a baby Nile Hippopotamus sleeps as visitors stop by her enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden in Cincinnati. VOA

The Cincinnati Zoo’s famous premature baby hippo does more than delight social media fans and help sell a wide range of merchandise. She’s also an educational and literary force; heroine of a half-dozen books so far and a popular subject for library and classroom activities.

The latest book is “Saving Fiona” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) written by the zoo’s director, Thane Maynard.

“She has taught us a lot,” Maynard said. It’s believed Fiona is the smallest hippo ever to survive. Born nearly two months early, she was 29 pounds (13 kilograms), a third the size of a typical full-term Nile hippo and unable to stand or nurse.

A zoo staffer hand-milked her mother Bibi, and Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington helped develop a special formula. Nurses from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital were enlisted to put in a hippo IV.

“We were a nervous wreck every day,” Maynard said of Fiona’s first six months after her birth in January 2017.

His book is aimed at young readers, telling Fiona’s against-the-odds story while loading in facts about hippos, such as that they can outrun humans and are herbivores that can be dangerous because of their size of up to 5,000 pounds (2,267.96 kilograms).

“Part of the zoo’s mission is public education,” Maynard said. “(The book) is reaching kids and families with a message of hope … never giving up.”

The combined Fiona library of books by various authors and illustrators has sold tens of thousands so far.

In this Tuesday, June 26, 2018 photo, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden Thane Maynard poses for a photograph beside the enclosure of Fiona, their baby Nile Hippopotamus, in Cincinnati.
In this Tuesday, June 26, 2018 photo, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden Thane Maynard poses for a photograph beside the enclosure of Fiona, their baby Nile Hippopotamus, in Cincinnati. VOA

Educators say students are attracted to lessons themed around animals. Fiona has been on the cover of three Scholastic News Magazines that reached millions of students with stories accompanied by reading exercises or math formulas such as finding how many bathtubs the water in her zoo would fill.

“Everybody just falls in love with her,” said Stephanie Smith, editorial director for Scholastic News grades 3-6. “Kids will just gobble it up. It makes teaching easy.”

Mike Shriberg, Great Lakes regional director for the National Wildlife Federation, said conservationists see celebrity-type attention to Fiona that glosses over the serious challenges for hippos and other animals facing shrinking habitats and illegal hunting.

“There is a deeper message to be conveyed,” he said.

However, Shriberg, who said growing up in Cincinnati as a frequent zoo visitor helped lead him into wildlife conservation, said the Fiona mania – which has seen her image marketed on items from playing cards to beer – is a positive development overall.

Also read: South Africa in “Severe” Drought: To relieve impact Rangers kill 350 Hippos, Buffalos in Wildlife Park

“We are certainly in favor of anything that is engaging people with wildlife, and Fiona has been a phenomenal success,” he said. “You’ve got the American public and people around the world really caring about hippos and animals, through the lens of Fiona.” (VOA)

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Siberian Caves Provide New Insight Into Mysterious Extinct Human Species

New fossils would be especially welcome, as we know almost nothing about the physical appearance of Denisovans, aside from them having rather chunky teeth.

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The entrance to Denisova Cave, which contains evidence of previous habitation by extinct human species, in the Anui River valley in the Altai mountains of Siberia, Russia, is shown in this image released on Jan. 30, 2019. VOA

Scientists using sophisticated techniques to determine the age of bone fragments, teeth and artifacts unearthed in a Siberian cave have provided new insight into a mysterious extinct human species that may have been more advanced than previously known.

Research published Wednesday shed light on the species called Denisovans, known only from scrappy remains from Denisova Cave in the foothills of the Altai Mountains in Russia.

While still enigmatic, they left a genetic mark on our species, Homo sapiens, particularly among indigenous populations in Papua New Guinea and Australia that retain a small but significant percentage of Denisovan DNA, evidence of past interbreeding between the species.

Fossils and DNA traces demonstrated Denisovans were present in the cave from at least 200,000 to 50,000 years ago, and Neanderthals, a closely related extinct human species, were present there between 200,000 and 80,000 years ago, the new research found. Stone tools indicated one or both species may have occupied the cave starting 300,000 years ago.

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Bone points and pierced teeth, sampled for radiocarbon dating from the early Upper Paleolithic layers of Denisova Cave in Siberia, Russia, are shown in this photo provided Jan. 30, 2019. VOA

Scientists last year described a Denisova Cave bone fragment of a girl whose mother was a Neanderthal and father a Denisovan, evidence of interbreeding. The girl, nicknamed “Denny,” lived around 100,000 years ago, the new research showed.

Pendants made of animal teeth and bone points from the cave were determined to be between 43,000 and 49,000 years old. They may have been crafted by Denisovans, suggesting a degree of intellectual sophistication.

“Traditionally these objects are associated in Western Europe with the expansion of our species, and are seen as hallmarks of behavioral modernity, but in this case Denisovans may be their authors,” said archaeological scientist Katerina Douka of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany.

Our species arose in Africa roughly 300,000 years ago, later spreading worldwide. There is no evidence Homo sapiens had reached Denisova Cave when these objects were made.

Denisovans are known only from three teeth and one finger bone.

Also Read: U.S. Sponsored Event Promoting Fossil Fuels Disrupted by Protesters

“New fossils would be especially welcome, as we know almost nothing about the physical appearance of Denisovans, aside from them having rather chunky teeth,” said geochronologist Zenobia Jacobs of the University of Wollongong in Australia.

“Their DNA in modern Australian Aboriginal and New Guinean people tantalizingly suggests they may have been quite widespread in Asia, and possibly even southeast Asia, but we need to find some hard evidence of their presence in these regions to flesh out the full story of the Denisovans,” added University of Wollongong geochronologist Richard “Bert” Roberts.

The research was published in the journal Nature. (VOA)