Guadalupe, the younger of Woodland Park Zoo’s two river hippopotamuses, shambled onto the metal surface of the scale. The floor-level scale sat at the end of a sturdy chute in the hippo barn behind the scenes. Above her keeper’s head, a digital display flickered numbers as Guadalupe shifted her considerable weight and leaned her huge chin on a rail at the end of the chute.
Today was the big weigh-in for the ponderous pair–the culmination of a two-week online contest to guess their combined weight–but Guadalupe, unlike many human weight-watchers, wasn’t interested in shaving off a few ounces by shunning last-minute snacks. Far from it: she happily opened her massive jaws to accept apples and carrots, treats that her keepers used to train her to stand on the scale.
The final tally: 12-year-old Guadalupe packs a portly 3,285 pounds, while Water Lily is comparatively svelte at a mere 2,994 pounds, making for a grand total of 6,279 pounds–almost as much as the curb weight of a Hummer H2.
More than 2,800 zoo fans weighed in with guesses, with two of these estimates coming close to the mark. By random drawing, the winner proved to be Alane Michels, age 42, of Sprague, Washington. She guessed 6,280 pounds (and if Guadalupe had swallowed just a few more apples, that guess might have been correct down to the ounce!).
Michels’s prize includes the opportunity to meet the hippos behind the scenes in their barn. She will take home a 4-gallon bucket of Zoo Doo, six single-day zoo passes, and a ZooParent hippo adoption.
According to the zoo’s press release, Michels exclaimed upon hearing of her victory, “This is a dream come true! I grew up coming to Woodland Park Zoo and am such an animal nut. I can’t believe it!”
The contest provided a bit of entertainment to enliven the cold, wet, post-holiday season but it also had a larger goal of highlighting the acquisition of the scale and its use in maintaining animal health. It also encouraged people to research these fascinating animals of the African savannah.
Of course, Guadalupe and Water Lily enjoy perks and privileges that their free-roaming relatives don’t. “Lupe,” as she’s fondly known around the barn, continually propped her bristly chin on the chute railing not only to beg for treats but also to enjoy a good facial scritch-scratch with a long-handled scrub brush.
According to her keepers, Lupe is bouncy, friendly, and not shy around strangers. Indeed, the huge animal’s behavior in the chute put one in mind of a particularly large pug dog. Water Lily, on the other hand, is more reserved–a personality profile she demonstrated by ignoring the visitors to her barn, keeping her back to them and concentrating on munching hay.
Treats, rewards, and patience were the tactics employed by keepers in training the hippos to relax and cooperate in venturing onto the new apparatus, as well as backing off of it on command. To obtain an accurate reading, a hippo must stand with all fours on the plate without resting her head on the railing. It’s important that all of the animal is on the scale at the same time: a hippo’s head alone can weigh about 1,000 pounds!