The World Health Organization estimates that 15 million babies are born prematurely each year; that’s more than one in 10. More than one million babies die each year due to premature complications, and babies that survive can suffer from lifelong disabilities such as hearing and visual impairments.

When a baby animal is born prematurely, however, it has a much less chance of surviving. There are no doctors to nurse them back to health. The animal kingdom is an unforgiving environment, and babies that can’t keep up with the rest of their litter are often left to die.

That’s why zookeepers at the Cincinnati Zoo were nervous when Fiona, a baby hippo, was born on January 24—a whopping six weeks premature. Yet, only a week later, she did something completely unexpected that shocked them.

On January 24, a baby hippo named Fiona was born six weeks premature at the Cincinnati Zoo. That’s often a death sentence for baby animals, since their parents often abandon offspring if they’re too weak. Since her birth, however, Fiona has slowly gained strength and weight, thanks to doctors providing around-the-clock intensive care.

Baby HippoCincinnati Zoo

Fiona was nursed close to her mother and father so that all three could smell and hear each other.

Fiona spent her first few weeks in a pool, where she needed foam noodles to help support her weight. She also had to be tube-fed a combination of formula and her mother’s milk due to her poor suckling response. Doctors said it would still take some time before Fiona could be fully reunited with her mother.

Baby Hippo 2

Fiona needed to learn how to swim, nurse on her own, and grow a lot bigger before being reintroduced to her parents.

Fiona was making nice progress, though! Just watch her take her first wobbly steps!

Hopefully Fiona makes a full recovery and can see her parents soon. With the help of the talented doctors and zoo workers, she should be able to assimilate back into her natural environment in no time!

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