Baby Hippo Fiona Gets a Helping Hand From Humans

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Premature births aren't exclusive to humans. They happen all across the animal kingdom, and just like human babies, premature animal babies need some extra TLC.

Fiona the hippo was born at the Cincinnati Zoo on Jan. 24, six weeks before her expected due date. She weighed a mere 29 pounds, incredibly light for a creature that typically weighs between 55 and 120 pounds at birth. The zoo's veterinarians sprang into action, keeping Fiona moist and warm to keep her system functioning, and they also began milking her mother, Bibi, so they could bottle feed the tiny hippo calf.

Fiona has responded well to her treatments. Caregivers lay Fiona on their chests so she could learn to regulate her breathing, and despite a weak start at bottle feeding, she showed progress by early February. She took her first steps Feb. 5, a "developmental milestone" required before she can be reunited with her mother. Another developmental need is getting used to the water. The video above, which was made on Feb. 7, shows Fiona (adorably) swimming and diving in a tub of water.

On Feb. 17, when Fiona became dehydrated and needed IV fluids, the zoo called on nearby Cincinnati Children's hospital to help.

“Preemies have very tiny and unstable veins, and even though our vet team was able to get multiple IVs placed, the veins could not sustain the IV and would blow,” said curator of mammals Christina Gorsuch, in a statement. “Lucky for us, we’re right next door to a world-class facility with a whole department dedicated to working with difficult veins.”

Two members of the hospital's Vascular Access Team used ultrasound equipment to place an IV catheter in the little hippo. The first line lasted 30 minuted and then the vein blew. The team tried again and successfully placed what the zoo said was a life-saving catheter in one of Fiona's deep leg veins. They're monitoring her around the clock and, after five bags of fluid, she is showing signs of recovery, said Gorsuch.

Fiona is just a little under 50 pounds. The zoo is posting regular updates about her status and it's also accepting donations to help cover the costs of keeping Fiona happy and healthy.