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A Big Decision for Hippos Lupe and Lily

Our hippos are big fans of watermelon any time of the year! Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.
For all the animals in our care, we’re committed to their daily wellbeing. But we also dedicate ourselves to assuring they will continue to thrive through all the ages and stages of their lives still to come. That’s why after much discussion and consideration, zoo staff will begin the process of seeking new homes for our beloved hippos, Lily and Lupe.

Lily and Lupe have been part of our zoo family for decades, and while we will be sad to see them move, we feel that this decision is the very best thing for two of our favorite hippos in the world.

Lupe is at an appropriate age for breeding at 20 years old. Based on Lupe’s genetic makeup, she is recommended for breeding by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) so that she can help sustain a genetically healthy population. Our current hippo exhibit was designed 40 years ago to house two hippos. It was not intended as a breeding facility, and therefore the space does not allow for a male and female to be separated or have offspring.

With Lupe’s move under consideration, we of course needed to think about what is best for Lily. Hippos are social animals and need companionship. At 41 years old, Lily is healthy enough to move to a new home and acclimate to a new social group. In a few years, however, a similar move would be much more challenging for her. 

Water Lily, affectionately called Lily, was born in August 1978 at Houston Zoo and moved to Woodland Park Zoo the following year in October 1979. She is 41 years old and weighs 2,980 pounds. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
In the coming months, the zoo will be working with accredited partners through the AZA Species Survival Plan to identify the best placement for Lily and Lupe. We are in the very early stages of this process and do not expect Lily and Lupe to move sooner than this fall. Moving two hippos is a big deal, and we want to be sure to make the right decisions along the way and find the best home(s). Animal Care staff from Woodland Park Zoo will accompany our hippos and help them settle into their new home(s). Ideally, Lily and Lupe can be placed in a new home together. However, they may be placed separately if there is an opportunity for them both to thrive in different social groups.

Guadalupe, called Lupe by her friends and fans, was born in November 1999 at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. She moved to Woodland Park Zoo in 2003. She is 20 years old and weighs 2,900 pounds. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
Factors that will influence the timeline of a move this big include weather (extreme hot or cold temperatures during the move), exhibit modifications to safely move the hippos and accommodate a relocation vehicle, and healthcare evaluations to ensure both Lily and Lupe are healthy and able to travel safely. Training will also be an important factor—Lily and Lupe will be moved in specially-outfitted, animal-safe transportation crates. The hippos will be provided extended access to their moving crates to allow them to enter and exit freely and become comfortable in the space. Their dedicated keepers will introduce training that will help ensure their safety and reduce stress during the move. This will likely include a lot of extra treats such as watermelon and the crunchiest lettuce.

In addition to animal wellness, water sustainability in the hippo exhibit is also a significant consideration in our decision. Your zoo is committed to and constantly evaluating our sustainable practices. In order to provide a healthy and clean environment for the hippos, their pool is drained, cleaned and refilled with water between two and three times each week. This clean environment has meant that hippos in the exhibit have lived long, healthy lives with no health problems attributed to their housing.

Lily and Lupe chilling in the pool. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
However, the zoo has been monitoring water usage in the hippo pool, which accounts for almost 20 percent of the zoo’s total annual water usage. We have been discussing options for the last couple of years related to hippo pool water usage and filtration. With the decision made to move Lily and Lupe in the best interest of the hippos’ wellbeing comes the responsibility and opportunity to assess how next to use the current exhibit.

Given the factors above, zoo staff have made the decision not to seek new hippos for the exhibit. Over the coming months, staff will evaluate the space to determine how to best utilize it with an eye to both animal care and environmental sustainability.

“Lily and Lupe are beloved by our staff and community. This decision was not made lightly, and we will all be sad to see them leave,” says President and CEO Alejandro Grajal. “Despite this, our highest commitment is to the full-life care and wellness of our animals. We want them to continue to thrive and will do everything we can to prepare them for a safe and successful move.”

Decisions such as this are not made overnight, and they are not easy, but we thank all of you for supporting us in keeping animal wellness our highest priority. Zoo staff are constantly considering each animal’s wellbeing and we know this is as important to our zoo supporters and fans as it is to us. We thank our extremely dedicated animal keepers and animal health team who have worked so hard to provide the best care for Lily and Lupe. They have lived healthy, great lives here at Woodland Park Zoo and we will do everything possible to ensure their next home provides them a continued opportunity to thrive.

When we know more about their move, we will share our plans for Lily and Lupe with you. In the meantime, please stop by the African Savanna to say hello. Currently, they are soaking up the wonderful February mud puddles. If you have questions, please let us know and if you have any most favorite memories of Lily and Lupe, we’d love to hear!

Lily and Lupe sneak up on one of their favorite treats during Pumpkin Bash. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.


JC said…
I'll be sorry to see our lovely ladies go, but I am always happy with the focus on care and well-being. I look forward to learning about their planned new home as things finalize.
Kit said…
I was an Animal Keeper at The Oregon Zoo in the 1970's, and helped care for hippo Kubwa Sana in the zoo Nursery right after he was born. What a character! So much personality and so full of life! Endeared me to hippos from then on. Kubwa Sana somehow ended up at Woodland Park Zoo after I'd moved here, and I always enjoyed visiting Kubwa whenever I was at WPZ. But alas, he's gone now, and now the girls are leaving, too. While I completely understand and wholeheartedly support WPZ's decision to move them, my visits to WPZ just don't be the same without those hippos. I'm eager to see the exhibit redesign, and am looking forward to viewing and learning about whatever animals are housed there in the future.
wenfot said…
Please don't separate Lupe and Lily. Change is stressful, especially when you can't "tell" them what is going on. While I totally understand your decision (especially with the age of the exhibit), separating two BFF who rely and support each other seems heartbreaking and cruel. Please take the time to find the right place for them to be together.
Unknown said…
I agree - keep them together. It is cruel not to. You will get serious bad press and push back from the public. And also, I am not sure I understand how water usage budget here is a major concern... what other zoo/ part of the country has such rainfall and natural resources?
Anonymous said…
It breaks my heart to hear this news.
If the water was not an issue would this still be a discussion?
I know the water usage and cost was a topic of conversation years ago with NO changes.
Anonymous said…
San Diego Zoo
Anonymous said…
Could you expand the giraffe exhibit with the extra space? I love almost all the exhibits at WPZ, but have always felt the giraffe exhibit to be lacking in area and enriching landscape. Will miss seeing the hippos of course.
Unknown said…
If rainy Seattle can't handle the water usage, who can? The breeding consideration may be valid, though. It's seems like another hippo from another zoo could be exchanged for companionship for the remaining hippo. Otherwise, this seems like a typical, opaque, City of Seattle decision, with no real input from citizens. The zoo may be just want to be rid of the hassles of keeping hippos.
Anonymous said…
Has anyone seen the recent program about hippos on PBS Nature? Excellent program and a real reminder about important the pack is to hippos. I wonder how easy it will be to put them in a pack and hope for the best. I suspect it will be quite difficult.
Ahhh....hippo poop!! When I moved to Seattle in 1979, WPZ was my new favorite place to go. Over the years, it became my haven. Hippos are my totem animal -- few animals are both loving, nurturing and yet can snap you in half!! I will miss these two muchly...and while the rhinos are nice, they're not hippos. Guess our future move away from Seattle gained another reason to leave. *sad sigh*
We'll visit at least once before you go, we promise!!
T.C said…
I've been visiting since the old ape cages and wow what a wonderful Zoo it's become. I'm going to miss the hippos, my favorite memory was a slow zoo day and they happened to be refilling the pool. I have never seen those hippos more excited and animated luckily I got some pictures.
Anonymous said…
What a bummer. I'm sure this is a tough decision but a zoo with no elephants and soon no hippos is sad to see. I hope you don't lose more of the diversity.
Unknown said…
I really wish you could expand the hippos area or build them a new one with a bigger waterway and make it possible to breed them here. Of course I understand that doesn't seem possible but still wish it could happen. I agree that it would be best for them to go somewhere together and hope that can be arranged. I will visit them this Spring and Summer and I will be sad to see them go.
Betsy Ross said…
You have evaluated the situation carefully and I trust your judgment. Yes, it will be sad not to see them, but we need to think of their wellbeing and future. I know you will do whatever is in their best interest. I have loved visiting them when I come down from Fairbanks but I will be happy for their future. Thank you for putting them first over personal human enjoyment.
Anonymous said…
That was my thought - loosing many animals and the new ones we have don't show themselves. Becoming less and less to "see" when going to the zoo.
Unknown said…
Where did the hippo from oregon go?
Anonymous said…
Unfortunate that they are going. I hope that the zoo will consider the options for that space in fitting with the goals of conservation and education. Converting it to a space for Secretarybirds would be an outstanding leap forward. They fit with the African savanna theme and are a threatened species. The SSP was seeking new locations for secretarybirds as recently as last year and currently San Diego is the only place in the West to see them. These are the most unique birds of prey in the world, having no other living members of their family. They would definitely captivate and educate all visitors to that corner of the zoo.
Anonymous said…
Any news on the girls moving? My 4 year old daughter asked about her best friend Lupe today?