Nation’s oldest pygmy hippo celebrates 40th birthday in Ramona
By Karen Brainard
The nation’s oldest pygmy hippo celebrated its 40th birthday at its home in Ramona on Nov. 22.
Hannah Shirley, the pygmy hippo, lives at The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center, an animal sanctuary on Highland Valley Road. She arrived at the center in 2002 after she was discovered living in the backyard of a private home in Escondido.
The animal wildlife center director, Ali Crumpacker, said the hippo has had several names but the name “Hannah” developed when she was rescued, and “Shirley” was added so she could be named after her sponsor.
Because a pygmy hippo’s lifespan usually ends in the early 40s, Crumpacker said, “Every year from this year out will be a milestone.”
Helping Hannah Shirley celebrate her birthday were six local children who won a coloring contest and were invited to attend, along with their families. They each poured a cup of grains into a purple hippopotamus piñata that was set out for Hannah Shirley, who inspected it before getting into the treats. The guests also watched Hannah Shirley swim in her pond.
Contest winner 8-year-old Lydia Dean of Ramona said the funniest part was when Hannah Shirley ran up to the huge pink soccer ball she received as a birthday present and bit it.
Along with Lydia, were two other contest winners who were from Ramona: Joanna Abarca, age 5, and Talia Christofferson, age 13.
Crumpacker said when staff sang happy birthday to the 500-pound hippo in the morning, “it actually scared her. She ran away when we sang the second verse.”
The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center, not open to the public, provides hands-on care and a safe haven for wildlife. The center recently built a 4,200-square-foot medical building to meet its growing needs.
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