Adorable premature baby hippo has inspired lines of merch, beer and cookies to benefit the cash-strapped zoo for her care.
This little hippo is a cash cow.
Meet Fiona, the Cincinnati Zoo’s six-month-old hippopotamus calf, whose early struggle to survive has won hearts and opened wallets.
When Fiona was born six weeks early in January, the premie weighed just 29 pounds – incredibly small considering the average hippo birth weight runs between 55 to 120 pounds. She could barely walk, too weak to stand and nurse from her mom, Bibi.
So the zoo assembled Team Fiona, a round-the-clock crew of zookeepers and even NICU nurses from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, who were skilled in finding tiny infant veins to start IVs. And so the #TeamFiona hashtag was born as social media rooted for this unlikely new internet darling to grow healthy and strong.
— Cincinnati Zoo (@CincinnatiZoo) February 20, 2017
The photogenic little hippo has also been a marketing dream come true for the zoo that is still reeling from the killing of the gorilla Harambe last year. The gorilla was shot by zoo officials trying to protect a 3-year-old boy who had climbed into the enclosure.
A Cincinnati Zoo spokeswoman told Moneyish that attendance is up 22% over last year, which can be credited in part to the intense public interest around Fiona.
— Cincinnati Zoo (@CincinnatiZoo) March 4, 2017
“Fiona merchandise is so popular that we had to open a Hippo Hut next to the hippo habitat.” she said. It’s restocked daily, and has run through 15,000 Fiona souvenir cups, 4,200 shirts Fiona t-shirts, 2,708 Fiona magnets and 2,566 plush Fionas.
The Animal Adventure Park near Binghamton, N.Y. enjoyed a similar boom earlier this year after a live cam set to capture April the giraffe giving birth captivated the internet. The pregnant giraffe raked in $140,000 for the zoo, and a GoFundMe campaign for April and her calf raised $170,510.
The Cincinnati Zoo has also received twice as many donations for animal care this year over last year, particularly as local businesses have hopped on the #TeamFiona train to raise more than $200,000 and counting to help cover the 24/7 care for a premature baby hippo, including baby formula, pools, heating the water, reconfiguring the space to accommodate her needs, etc.
Cincy Shirts has raised $90,000 and counting toward its $100,000 goal for the zoo by donating a portion of the proceeds from its line of $25 Fiona t-shirts, $10 enamel pins, $7 car magnets and $3.50 stickers.
“It’s pretty crazy. We’ve had a relationship with the Cincinnati Zoo for awhile now, but nothing has ever sparked people in the way that this has, especially coming off the Harambe incident,” Josh Sneed from Cincy Shirts told Moneyish. He estimated that they’ve sold more than 17,000 Fiona-themed merch for the zoo, and has shipped them internationally, including Russia and Israel.
“Someone told us that they went to the zoo, and they felt ‘out of the club’ for being the only one not wearing a Fiona shirt,” Sneed said.
The local Listermann Brewing Company crafted two batches of Team Fiona East Coast IPA last month. The first 140 cases sold out in three hours as 400 people lined up to taste the buzzworthy smooth, fruitful pale ale. The next 170 cases were gone by 6 p.m. that night, and the brewery donated $13,000 from the proceeds to #TeamFiona.
General manager Jason Brewer told Moneyish he estimates they’ve sold between $35,000 and $40,000 total in Fiona brews, glassware and other merch. They’re creating a batch of “Bifi” (the internet nickname for mom Bibi and baby Fiona) next, which will be flavored with pink guava. It’s due in August.
“That sweet baby hippo kept us on the edge of our seat in stages – is she going to make it? Is she not? How can we help?” added Brewer. “We’re a family-owned business without any outside investors, and there were times where it looked like we weren’t going to make it, either, so we identify with that underdog story.”
There’s also frosted Fiona sugar cookies from the local Busken Bakery ($23.60 for an 8-pack), with $1 from every cookie sold benefiting the zoo. A spokeswoman reports that they’ve sold more than 46,000 cookies and raised $46,304 and counting. Graeter’s Ice Cream has also scooped a limited-edition batch of Chunky Chunky Hippo toffee ice cream mixed with salted roasted peanuts and milk chocolate caramel truffles in her honor. Six-packs can be ordered online for about $80, or Cincinnati stores sell it by the scoop.
And even Bicycle playing cards has gotten in the game, creating a special deck of cards with 52 different pictures of Fiona and her caretakers on them, provided by the zoo. The decks run $5.99, with $1 per deck going to the zoo. Reps from the United States Playing Card Company told Moneyish they’ve raised close to $60,000 for the zoo.
“Fiona’s story was such a viral thing locally, that everyone in Cincinnati wanted to help,” said Sneed. “It’s just how our city is. We rally around things like this.”
© 2017 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved