Her name is Fiona and January 24, 2018 marks her 1st birthday.
The most star-studded inhabitant in the history of the Cincinnati Zoo is the world's first premature hippo to survive in captivity and is a roly-poly reminder of our love of the underdog. Er, underhippo.
Fiona was born 6 weeks early and weighed only 29 pounds, less than half the average hippo birth weight of 55-100 pounds and two dozen pounds lighter than the lowest ever recorded birth weight of her species. She required around the clock medical attention for months in her battle to survive.
But survive she did and to say that she has captured the hearts of the world is an understatement.
The chubby-charmer took the internet by storm, closing out 2017 by being named as one of Entertainment Weekly's top social media sensations of the year. She had her own facebook series called The Fiona Show, and has two books out (My Best Friend Fiona and Fiona's Feelings) with a third on the way. She even became a rallying cry for women's body positivity. When the zoo posted images of Fiona's increasing neck rolls on twitter, fans praised the zoo for the rare act of celebrating women's weight gain.
A video of her tooting underwater garnered 40,000 Instagram views within days of being posted. The "gastronomical" event also garnered an article with my favorite title of the year: Watch Fiona the Hippo Fart Because She Is the Only Good Thing left In This World.
Lucy May, author of My Best Friend Fiona put it to me this way:
"In a year that was so divided, politically and in so many other ways, Fiona was the hard-luck hippo that everyone could love no matter how much they disagreed on everything else. That has been pretty powerful."
I can attest to the phenomenon first hand. I live in Cincinnati and ventured out to wait (for quite a while, in the rain) for a chance to see Fiona frolicking in her waterworld. And what I witnessed was truly something.
Honestly, based on the reaction you would have thought it was Beyonce handing out one-hundred dollar bills.
And yes, Fiona really does break the cute-o-meter. Check out this video of her in a key recovery phase and if your heart doesn't moisten around its eyes just a little I'll eat my Cincinnati Reds hat.
Two amazing things still to come to this story though.
First, it's not Fiona, it's Fiona Inc. (not to be confused with who I write this column for). This girl is a biz-ness. Full stop.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the hungry, hungry diva has generated almost $500,000 in sales revenue for the zoo through sales of Fiona emblazoned clothes (via a dozen local merchandising deals), a local "#TeamFiona" beer, decks of cards, drinking cups, leggings, holiday ornaments, various trinkets, cookies that local Busken Bakery couldn't keep in stock and my favorite, local ice-cream god Graeter's specialty flavor "Chunky, Chunky Hippo" (a flavor, like all their others, that isn't just to die for, it's to murder for).
One Cincinnati apparel company indicated they've sold 45,000 Fiona branded items. About one-third of all of the revenue goes straight to pay for the intensive care administered by "Team Fiona", so maybe there is justice in this world after all.
But still there's more, and something more important.
As I was watching all the people mob Fiona's water tank, and it was a mob, I couldn't help but notice that the diverse group of groupees were all united, even if only for a few stargazing moments. Differences were set aside, the troubled world forgotten, all of us focused on something greater than ourselves (and not just greater in weight).
Hope. Perseverance. Unbridled joy.
In truth, Fiona isn't the only good thing in the world right now. But what she stands for--that's something we all undeniably need more of.