After Long Road Trip, D.C. Hippo in His New Milwaukee Home

A crated Happy the hippo traveled 18 hours to a Milwaukee zoo.
A crated Happy the hippo traveled 18 hours to a Milwaukee zoo. (Courtesy Of National Zoological Park)
By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How do you sneak a 5,000-pound hippopotamus out of Washington?

Throw a tarp over him. Nobody will notice.

That's what the National Zoo did Monday, spiriting its beloved Nile hippo, Happy, out Connecticut Avenue and off to a zoo in Milwaukee in a covered crate on a flatbed truck at the close of morning rush-hour.

The zoo, which had been planning the operation for a while, said it smuggled Happy out of town for his own benefit. He's a sensitive guy and was leaving the only home he's ever known.

Zoo officials feared a goodbye fuss might upset him, and who needs an emotional hippopotamus on an 18-hour drive?

"We could not afford to have a large crowd of people, whether they were staff or media or joggers or anybody in the area," because of the delicacy of the transfer, zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson said.

Another spokeswoman, Karin Korpowski-Gallo, said: "It wasn't in his interest to have him see out [of the crate], or to have anybody be able to see in."

The operation started before dawn.

The zoo announced more than a year ago that it had to find a new home for Happy because his quarters in the old elephant house were being eliminated in the current renovation of the Elephant Trails exhibit.

The Milwaukee County Zoo, which has two female hippos -- Patty and Puddles -- and a new $1.5 million hippo compound with showers and padded floors, agreed to take Happy. He arrived there safely about 3 a.m. Tuesday.

"We're sad to see him go," Korpowski-Gallo said, "but everyone knows he's going to such a bright future." Milwaukee zoo officials said they eventually want to mate Happy with one of their females.

National Zoo officials said they had been training Happy to get up early so he would not be undone by Monday's 5:30 a.m. wakeup call. Happy has lived a pampered existence, with his own outdoor pool and his own enclosure, since his birth at the zoo Jan. 4, 1981.

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