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The 5,500-Pound Question

How to Move a Hippo 800 Miles? Zoo Officials Are Thinking: Very Carefully.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 30, 2009

Happy the hippopotamus placed his right foot on the threshold of the giant moving crate and paused.

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He peered warily at his keeper, who was standing at the other end of the crate, trying to coax him in with a bucket of bananas.

"C'mon, Happy," said the keeper, John Taylor. "C'mon. You're not going anywhere today." Happy wasn't buying it. He gave Taylor a suspicious look and backed away. He was having a moment, Taylor said.

Happy, who has bulbous brown eyes and skin the color of an earthworm, may not be going anywhere right now. But the National Zoo's lone Nile hippo, who was born and has lived his whole life there, will probably be moving this summer to the Milwaukee County Zoo.

Curators are pondering: How do you move a 5,500-pound hippopotamus 800 miles?

First, you've got to get him in his timber and steel moving crate. And that takes practice.

There's also the size of the crate. Zoo curators think the one they have might not be wide enough for Happy to lie down in during the journey.

Then there's the size of the truck -- the journey will be a kind of hippo road trip, Happy's first.

And there's the size of the crane it will take to hoist him out of his yard. That task will probably be the most delicate because the crate should be kept perfectly level, curators said.

"We want the crate to be as stable as possible, as if it's levitating," said National Zoo Senior Curator Brandie Smith.

Happy has to leave Washington because the National Zoo's ongoing expansion of its elephant exhibit will claim his quarters. And the Milwaukee zoo wants to expand its hippo presence and possibly breed Happy, who recently turned 28.

Zoo officials plan to map out the best route to Milwaukee, as well as two alternates. They will also alert zoos along the way to have veterinarians on standby, in case of an emergency.

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