The Hippest of Hippos

Maybe I’m just partial to A-names (or names that remind me of a deck of playing cards), but I think the Louisville Zoo’s new baby pygmy hippo looks like an Ace. Something about the rolls on his chubby little body, and the way he plods around his enclosure makes me think this newcomer knows he’s the center of attention—and he loves it. He probably goes around to all the other animals in the zoo and introduces himself by saying, “Eeeey, I’m Ace,” in his best Arthur Fonzarelli impersonation.

Or not. He is, after all, a hippo, not a leather-jacket wearing, motorcycle-riding shark-jumper with great hair. Still, I think his name should be Ace.

Unfortunately, that decision isn’t up to me, at least not entirely. To commemorate their new addition, the Louisville Zoo is holding a naming competition. Last month they began accepting name suggestions for the unnamed male hippo, which was born on Aug. 28 to parents Hope and Maji. Last week, the zoo announced the three finalist names: Ace, Jahari and Kimani. Voting, which takes place in person via a cash donation at a kiosk stand inside the zoo, opened last week and continues until this Sunday.

When I visited the Zoo this weekend, Jahari was clearly in the lead for that day’s contributions. Someone had even thrown in a $20 bill into his bucket! According to a baby-naming guide on the Internet, Jahari means: “one who has youth, strength and power.” If that name does end up winning, I think I’ll be okay with it.

Whatever the name of the baby pygmy hippo, he is worth checking out, and I would suggest doing so soon, before he’s learned how to properly walk and interact with his surroundings. It’s adorable watching him stumble and wobble behind his mom (Dad? I don’t mean to be a hippo-ist, but it’s difficult to tell unless you’re laser-focused on animal junk, which I am happy to report I was not).

The newest hippo adds to the zoo’s nice collection, which includes elephants, giraffe, cats, camels, monkeys, snakes, bears and birds, among other local and wild animals.

My favorite non-hippo exhibit was the zoo’s walk-thru aviary, which surprised me because I’m normally pretty unimpressed by feathery creatures. Here, though, you got to walk into an enclosure full of gorgeous birds. When I walked through, two birds were having some sort of footrace in the path in front of me and a bird with a bright red Mohawk was hanging out on a rock a few feet from my face.

The close-up view and abundance of flora and fauna to focus on were a nice change from the more spacious outdoor exhibits with limited viewing points and space between you and the animal. Mind you, that isn’t a criticism. If anything, some of the exhibits need even more space. The gorilla I saw seemed too close to me. While I trust the zoo’s judgment and ability to calculate how far a gorilla can parkour across a ravine, it still felt too small. I’ve obviously been watching too much of Congo and Planet of the Apes. Large apes are too humanlike not to creep me out.

Other observations from the zoo include overhearing lots of cheesy dad-jokes, like one at this terrarium that contained a litter of naked mole-rats piled up. Said dad turned to his daughter and said, “Look at all of them. They must be cuddling because they’re cold. Because they’re naked.”

She didn’t find it funny, but it’s a classic dad-joke.

Prime zoo-going time has always been the summer when schools out and the park offers extended hours, but the opportunity to see a baby hippo and ability to skip large throngs of people make a fall or winter visit completely worthwhile. The Louisville Zoo’s regular hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with visitors able to say until 5 p.m. This weekend and next, however, the park closes an hour earlier (3 p.m., with patrons invited to stay until 4 p.m.) in order to prepare for their ongoing “World’s Largest Halloween Party.” Admittance to the park is $15.95 for adults, and $11.50 for children. Discounted rates are available for seniors and groups. Separate ticket prices exist for family-focused Halloween Party. For more information, visit LouisvilleZoo.com.