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Zoo’s Geriatric Hippo Healing Well After First Dentist Visit

Posted by Craig Newberry, Communications

You’re never too old to have your first dentist visit! The zoo’s oldest hippo is now healing after undergoing a complex anesthetic procedure. Water Lily, affectionately called Lily, is 45 years old, and this was the first time she’d been to a dentist. While the tooth fairy won't be visiting her, she is receiving loads of care and treats to help her recover. 

Yesterday, an expert team of animal health professionals performed a dental evaluation of Lily and treated a wound and swelling on her cheek that had become abscessed. The procedure was necessary to prevent the wound from worsening and causing other potential serious complications.

The procedure involved nearly 30 zoo staff and Dr. Michael Lowder, a veterinary dentist who specializes in megavertebrate patients and traveled to Seattle to work alongside the zoo’s animal health team. In order to perform the dental procedure, talented Exhibits and Facilities team members used a rigging system with ropes and pulleys attached to pre-placed secure bolts to move the 2,763-pound Lily into position and to keep her mouth open so that the veterinary team could access her teeth. Animal keepers provided constant massage to Lily’s legs to help with blood circulation.

“Lily did very well during the procedure and is now recuperating from anesthesia,” said Dr. Tim Storms, Animal Health Director. “This was a huge feat for our team who did an outstanding job ensuring Lily received the best possible care and expert medical attention. We happily discovered that although Lily has numerous worn and missing teeth due to her age, she does not have an infected tooth related to the jaw wound, nor did she require any tooth extractions. Additionally, we were able to thoroughly evaluate her cheek swelling. The biological samples we collected and the information we learned today will give us a comprehensive assessment of her health and guide her medical care.”

Lily and Lupe floating next to each other, 2019. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

The hippo is beloved by the Woodland Park Zoo community, and the zoo is grateful for all the love and support Lily received as she underwent her procedure. The community will be able to see her roaming around the hippo habitat soon. 

Lily was born in August 1978 at Houston Zoo and moved to Woodland Park Zoo the following year in October 1979. She shares the hippo habitat with Guadalupe, called Lupe by her friends and fans. Lupe was born in November 1999 at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. She moved to Woodland Park Zoo in 2003 and is 25 years old and weighs 2,900 pounds. 

In the wild, hippos have been known to live about 40 years, and in zoos they can live into their 50s. Lily and Lupe are inquisitive animals who have developed close relationships with their keepers. They love treats, like munching on a whole head of lettuce or playing with watermelons and pumpkins in their pool.