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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
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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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Neanderthals And Sapiens Both Faced Risks

But the new study is not the final word on Neanderthal trauma

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Neanderthal
A 3D-printed model of a Neanderthal man stands at the stand of FIT AG during a media presentation at the international fairs FabCon 3.D and Rapid.Tech, Germany. VOA

Life as a Neanderthal was no picnic, but a new analysis says it was no more dangerous than what our own species faced in ancient times.

That challenges what the authors call the prevailing view of our evolutionary cousins, that they lived risky, stressful lives. Some studies have suggested they had high injury rates, which have been blamed on things like social violence, attacks by carnivores, a hunting style that required getting close to large prey, and the hazards of extensive travel in environments full of snow and ice.

While it’s true that their lives were probably riskier than those of people in today’s industrial societies, the vastly different living conditions of those two groups mean comparing them isn’t really appropriate, said Katerina Harvati of the University of Tuebingen in Germany.

Neanderthal model
Neanderthal model. Reconstruction of a Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) based on the La Chapelle-aux-Saints fossils. Neanderthals inhabited Europe and western Asia between 230,000 and 29,000 years ago. They did not use complex tools but had mastery of fire and built shelters. It is thought that they had language and a complex social structure, living in small family groups and hunting for food. It is not known why Neanderthals became extinct, but one theory is that they were outcompeted by modern humans (Homo sapiens). Reconstruction by Elisabeth Daynes of the Daynes Studio, Paris, France.

A better question is whether Neanderthals faced more danger than our species did when we shared similar environments and comparable lifestyles of mobile hunter-gatherers, she and study co-authors say in a paper released Wednesday by the journal Nature.

To study that, they focused on skull injuries. They reviewed prior studies of fossils from western Eurasia that ranged from about 80,000 to 20,000 years old. In all they assessed data on 295 skull samples from 114 individual Neanderthals, and 541 skull samples from 90 individuals of our own species, Homo sapiens.

Injury rates turned out to be about the same in both species.

Also Read: Neanderthal Genes Helped Early Humans Beings to Fight Flu, Hepatits

That questions the idea that the behavior of Neanderthals created particularly high levels of danger, Marta Mirazon Lahr of Cambridge University wrote in an accompanying commentary.

But the new study is not the final word on Neanderthal trauma, she wrote. It didn’t include injuries other than to the skull. And scientists still have plenty of work to do in seeking the likely cause of injuries and evidence of care for the injured, which could give insights into the behavior of both Neanderthals and ancient members of our species, she wrote. (VOA)