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Woodland Park Zoo to say goodbye to beloved hippo, Water Lily

Posted by Farrah Paul, Communications

Lily in 2015. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

We have some very sad and difficult news to share. We will soon say goodbye to our beloved hippopotamus Water Lily, who has experienced declining health and quality of life following a cancer diagnosis last month. Veterinarians and caretakers have made a difficult end-of-life decision for the 45-year-old hippo, affectionately known as Lily, who will be humanely euthanized early next week. She will be surrounded by her loving animal keepers and an empathetic, expert team of veterinary animal health professionals.

The zoo recognizes that our staff, volunteers, members and community feel deeply connected to Lily and may wish to use the next few days to visit her or celebrate her life. Lily will continue to enjoy her pool and outdoor habitat over the coming days and should be visible to those who come to say farewell. 

Community members may continue to see Lily through Sunday, April 28, after which time the pathway will be temporarily closed.

Sweet Lily

“Everyone who worked with Lily realized how special she was. For those she trusted, you got the privilege of knowing all her favorite things. The best spot to scratch her under her chin, her ear wiggles she would give as she surfaced in the pool when she heard you call her, and how she would always ask for a treat when she saw you even if it was just lettuce. But if it was something extra good, like a watermelon, she would suck every last bit of juice that spilled out of it. She touched the lives of every keeper who had the joy of working with her,” said Lead Animal Keeper, Lauren Sutherland-Cook.

Last month, Lily underwent an anesthetic procedure to evaluate her teeth as well as a wound and swelling on her cheek, a biopsy of which revealed a diagnosis of fibrosarcoma, a type of cancer of connective tissue. Her care team and veterinarians have been monitoring her health and overall wellbeing since the surgery, and have observed changes that indicate a declining quality of life for Lily including decreased mobility, unsteadiness, and having a harder time rising and getting out of her pool.

According to Dr. Tim Storms, Director of Animal Health, “I am so thankful for our dedicated and experienced hippo caretakers who have been closely monitoring Lily for signs of decline since her cancer diagnosis, which they are now seeing and that we believe are irreversible. A euthanasia decision is always very difficult, but we feel strongly that now is the best time to intervene to prevent her from declining to the point where her bad days outnumber her good days.”

Lily was born in August 1978 at Houston Zoo and moved to Woodland Park Zoo the following year in October 1979. She shares her habitat with 25-year-old Lupe, who has been at Woodland Park Zoo since 2003.

Lily and Lupe in 2021. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

With Lily’s declining health, the zoo is also preparing for how to support Lupe during this time. Lupe will continue to receive the best possible care from her animal keepers and veterinarians and will receive extra enrichment and special attention as she adjusts. To provide for her ongoing wellbeing, Woodland Park Zoo is assessing options for Lupe to move to another accredited zoo, where she can have the company of other hippos as part of the Species Survival Plan. A public update will be provided once a new home and relocation timeline are identified. The zoo’s hippo habitat is over 40 years old, and in acknowledgement of improving standards for space, exhibit functionality and sustainability, Woodland Park Zoo does not intend to bring new hippos and will focus on finding an appropriate social grouping for Lupe at another zoo with the help of partner organizations through the Associations of Zoos and Aquariums.

Lupe will get extra enrichment and special attention. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

Woodland Park Zoo staff, Lily’s dedicated animal keepers and her veterinary team are thankful for the outpouring of love and kindness over the past month. Community members who want to share their memories, photos or support are invited to comment on the zoo’s social media channels (@woodlandparkzoo) and those comments will be shared with staff. We ask that no memorial items be left at Lily and Lupe’s habitat or inside the zoo, as those items might blow into animal habitats and cause unintended harm. Thank you.


Anonymous said…
Perhaps find a hippo to transfer to Lupe, rather than move Lupe elsewhere?
Anonymous said…
Why not improve the habitat instead of transferring Lupe out?
Anonymous said…
I would love to see the habitat renewed and hippos stay at the zoo. They have been our families favorite for 20+ years!
Sunny said…
I'm absolutely devastated to read this tragic news. Lily has been a treasure and she'll be so missed. I hope the Seattle weather behaves and awards her some sunshine before she passes over to her next adventure. I'm also sorry to hear Lupe might be moved, though I'm glad his well-being is being considered. However, is it possible to move another hippo to the Woodland Park Zoo and improve this habitat? I'm sure the community would offer their support to make hippos staying at the Woodland Park Zoo a reality.
Anonymous said…
Super sad to hear about Lily!! The hippos are the only reason we take our kids to the zoo, so we'll have to visit them to say goodbye to them and the zoo.
Anonymous said…
The exhibit is inadequate, they can't bring in a new hippo for long-term. The exhibit was built in the 70s, and has not aged well. It would be better for Lupe to be transferred to a new zoo, where she can live with other hippos in a more up-to-date enclosure.
Anonymous said…
The hippos we're the reason why our family became members.
Also the reason why we come. Now, we'll have to find a new zoo.
Too bad the zoo doesn't have a hippo encounter. If it did, I would have paid more for it and so would many other people.
Anonymous said…
I am very sad to hear about WaterLily. When my sister and I were young Ruth had the amazing opportunity to Adopt her. And she had a certification and we got to see her whenever we wanted. WaterlLilys's picture was always visible and she was part of our family. We love her and we will miss her. ❤ Thank You!
Crystal said…
I will be sad to see the hippos go. They have always been there since I was a kid and I got to be there to see them with my son.
Anonymous said…
I knew that the hippos would have to go eventually, but this is still very sad news. What I want to know is, what will the hippo exhibit become? Will it be absorbed into the African Savannah, or will a different semi-aquatic African species move in?
Brian said…
I am really saddened to hear the news about Water Lily. One of the first things I did when I arrived in Seattle, believe it or not, was to visit the Woodland Park Zoo as I was excited to hear you had hippos. We have lived by the zoo for many years and I have taken many trips to the zoo solely to see Water Lily & Guadalupe. Many of those times I was accompanied by our daughter, first in a stroller, and now as a young woman. Thank you for letting us know and we will come by to pay our respects.

It is beyond disappointing to know that you are considering not replacing the hippo enclosure. The hippo enclosure is definitely old, so why not remodel it to modern standards? The hippos are one of the most popular animals you have! You can hide behind the environmental fig leaf of saving water, but by removing the elephants and how possibly the hippos it looks like you are admitting that the Woodland Park Zoo is not really a world-class zoo that can be a home to larger animals.

I strongly urge you to reconsider the idea of moving Guadalupe to another zoo and to remodel the hippopotamus enclosure!
Anonymous said…
Dear Waterlilly, May you be free of suffering, may you travel in light and love, may you feel the love and thanks of your community and feel the gift of medicines to help you pass peacefully.
Love and Light Waterlilly.