A Visit to the Cincinnati Zoo (Yes, We Saw Fiona!)

While the Cincinnati Zoo has held the title of “Greenest Zoo in America” since 2010, it is now probably more famous as the home of Fiona the baby hippo. With photos and fun facts, join me on a visit to the Cincinnati Zoo!  

Greenest Zoo in America

The first thing we noticed when our Uber driver dropped us off in the Vine Street parking lot was all of the solar panel covered parking. As our day continued, we saw more evidence of the Cincinnati Zoo’s focus on the environment, from water conservation to composting, from constructing green buildings to wind turbines.

Pro Tip:  Learn more about the Cincinnati Zoo’s green initiative through these eight facts.

Butterfly at the Cincinnati Zoo

I paid full price for my visit to the Cincinnati Zoo minus the reciprocal discount I earned through my Friends of the Zoo membership which was purchased at full price.  I always share my honest opinions.

Put Me in the Zoo

Charlotte, Lucy, and I opted for the zoo’s Explorer tickets which included:

  • Admission to the zoo (see Pro Tip below)
  • Unlimited rides on the train and carousel (something my daughters took full advantage of, even at ages 17 and 11)
  • Giraffe feeding
  • A short, 20-minute 4-D movie (we picked the one about predators)
  • $5 in “zoo bucks” per person (which we used toward our lunch)

Pro Tip:  If you are a member of your local zoo, be sure to ask about a reciprocal program when you purchase your tickets.  We received 50% off the admission price based upon our annual membership to the Friends of the Zoo here in Kansas City.

Fun Fact:  The Cincinnati Zoo is the nation’s second oldest zoo. When it opened its doors back in 1875, admission was $0.25 for adults and $0.15 for children. In case you’re wondering (I was) America’s oldest zoo is the Philadelphia Zoo.


Polar Bear at the Cincinnati Zoo
Hey, good looking! One of the Cincinnati Zoo’s polar bears gazes at its reflection in the pool.


Polar Bears

As we wound our way along the main path, one of our first stops was the polar bear exhibit. Polar bears are one of Lucy’s favorite animals, so we spent quite a bit of time watching Anana, the zoo’s 16-year-old female, and Little One, the zoo’s 26-year-old male.

With decreasing populations in the wild, largely due to loss of habitat, the Cincinnati Zoo hopes to successfully breed their polar bear couple.

Fun Fact:  Because the Cincinnati Zoo’s founders were German immigrants and the Queen City had a large German-speaking population, the zoo’s first guide book was published in German, and not English.


Kendi, Almost Famous

Kendi, the black rhino born to Seyia in July, is almost as famous as Fiona the hippo.  After multiple attempts to catch Kendi at play throughout the day, we seemed to only catch him napping in the beautiful, Indian summer sun.

Early in the morning, Seyia stood protectively in front of Kendi with a “you wake him, you take him” expression that every mother of a three-month-old has mastered by that stage of motherhood.

Seyia the Black Rhino at the Cincinnati Zoo

But as the day went on, and the sun shifted overhead, we got to see a bit more of Kendi, even if he was still napping.

Kendi the black rhino baby at the Cincinnati Zoo

Black rhinos like Seyia and Kendi are critically endangered, in large part because poachers kill the magnificent beasts for their horns. Although a rhino’s horn is predominantly keratin — a protein found in hair, fingernails, and animal hooves — demand for it in traditional Chinese medicine and as a status symbol drives the unnecessary and illegal killing of hundreds of rhinos each year.

Pro Tip:  Watch baby Kendi do more than sleep in this video from the Cincinnati Zoo.


Martha the Passenger Pigeon Memorial
PHOTO: Cincinnati Zoo | Updated Passenger Pigeon Memorial

Commitment to Wildlife Conservation

From its early days, the Cincinnati Zoo has had an active breeding program. But, despite the hatching of four passenger pigeons, Martha, the last living passenger pigeon, died at the zoo in 1914 making the species extinct. It was also home to the last living Carolina parakeet that died in 1918.

Perhaps a front row seat to the tragic extinction of two species fueled the zoo’s focus on saving endangered species and its breeding program. The Cincinnati Zoo was the first in the world to successfully breed California sea lions, and it has bred rhinos, hippos,  giraffes, and other animals vulnerable to extinction.  The zoo is one of only a dozen in North America to breed bonobos, an endangered great ape. All of this earned it the nickname of “the world’s sexiest zoo” by Newsweek magazine.

Fun Fact:  Martha is memorialized in one of Cincinnati’s downtown murals.


Gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo



Cincinnati Zoo officials had to make a split-second decision last year year when a preschooler fell into the gorilla enclosure. After Harambe, the male western lowland silverback gorilla, dragged the child through the water and was standing over him, zoo officials shot and killed the great ape to save the boy.  The controversial shooting made international headlines with animal experts, politicians, celebrities, comedians, and others weighing in on both sides.

Fast forward to our visit, and a $12 million expansion and update to Gorilla World is underway. When it is completed later this year, the gorillas will have twice the space they do today. 

lowland gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo

The Cincinnati Zoo also has a new male gorilla named Mshindi, a 29-year-old male silverback gorilla that was relocated from the Louisville Zoo about 100 miles to the southwest.  When we visited, Mshindi he was doing what male gorillas usually do in my presence — sleep. Thankfully other gorillas in his band were more photogenic!

Gorilla World exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo


Lots of Interaction

As we wound our way through the zoo, there were several unique opportunities, especially for animal lovers like my daughters. They got to meet and touch three different snakes throughout the day. Along the zoo path, a member of the zoo staff had chalked out lines to let guests compare their jumping skills to various animals, like a flea, cricket, bullfrog, and rabbit. 

jumping skills - you versus the animals
While Charlotte can jump farther than a cricket, she’s no rabbit!


Lion at the Cincinnati Zoo


As we headed to Giraffe Ridge, we passed the zoo’s lion pride.  It’s been about two years since the Cincinnati Zoo welcomed lion cubs, but based upon some of the frolicking we observed, but not featured here, a new litter of cubs may be on their way soon.

Lioness at the Cincinnati Zoo

Giraffe Feeding at the Cincinnati Zoo

Giraffe Feeding

Of all the “add-ons” that we received with our Explorer tickets, I think my daughters were most excited to feed the giraffes. Cincinnati Zoo’s Giraffe Ridge includes a large, elevated platform that allows guests to be eye-level with their gorgeous giraffes.  Youngsters Cora and Zoey are just about a year old, and they were adorable to watch.

Baby Giraffe at the Cincinnati Zoo


Baby Hippo Fiona sign at the Cincinnati Zoo

Fiona the Hippo

And, of course, there was Fiona the baby hippo. Born prematurely back in January, the sassy little gal has become quite the sensation. Zoo staff obviously recognize Fiona’s star status, so they’ve placed signs like the one above to help manage guest expectations by explaining that Fiona gets to explore her environment at her own pace and decide if she goes outdoors or not.  

We only saw Fiona’s mom, Bibi, and her dad, Henry, on our first few trips past the zoo’s new AFRICA exhibit.

Hippo at the Cincinnati Zoo
Either Bibi or Henry chilling in the hippo pond

But our perseverance paid off, and we were able to see Fiona out from behind her parents and exploring later in the day.

Because Fiona was premature and required extra love, attention, and medical care to survive, she was looked after by zookeepers until she was able to reunite with her parents.  Watch the family reunion here.

Baby Fiona the Hippo

What a fitting end to a great day at the Cincinnati Zoo!

What about you?  Have you had a chance to visit the Cincinnati Zoo lately?  Did you get to see Fiona or Kendi?  What did you think of your experience?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below!


5 thoughts on “A Visit to the Cincinnati Zoo (Yes, We Saw Fiona!)

  1. Love the Cincinnati zoo – still remember taking my daughter there when she was just a toddler! Hippos are one of my favs. Fiona is so cute.

  2. Zoos + environmental (beyond standard conservation that’s typical to zoos) is pretty much my favorite thing ever. The next time we’re in Ohio, I think it might be worth the trip up to Cincinnati 🙂

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