RAMONA, Calif. — An Escondido backyard is no place to raise a hippopotamus. In this Zevely Zone, I visited animal paradise at San Diego Humane Society's Ramona Wildlife Center.
Hannah the Hippo has a face only a mother could love but her story is one for everyone.
"She's got a heated barn with straw," said Andy Blue from the San Diego Humane Society's Ramona Wildlife Center.
Andy will never forget the day in 2002 when someone reported an Escondido homeowner raising a hippopotamus in a backyard. "I honestly thought it was going to be a pig or something like that," said Andy.
Nope. It was a hippo. A sunburned pygmy hippo that needed to be rescued.
"I was able to coax her into a trailer," said Andy. "She was very easy going and she went right in."
Andy brought Hannah the Hippo to San Diego Humane Society's Ramona Wildlife Center where she's been spoiled for the past 20 years.
"It's a good life," said one of the caretakers in a video that showed Hannah being pampered. When her skin gets dry, she gets the spa treatment with belly and back rubs.
She must drink from the fountain of youth because pygmy hippos in the wild usually live about 25 years. Hannah just turned 48.
Andy believes Hannah is the oldest pygmy hippo living in the United States. "For her this environment is ideal," said Andy.
Her 'Hippo Hotel' really rolls out the red carpet on November 22nd on her birthday each year. "Happy Birthday Hannah," yelled the staff on her special day.
"Yeah, we do it every year for her. The staff really goes all out for her and sets up lots of things for her," said Andy.
Hannah's birthday cake was carefully crafted with pumpkins, fruit, and fiber. Lots of fiber followed by slow walks because no one's in a hurry around here.
Years ago, Hannah used to lie around in the mud, but they couldn't have that. Not only was a custom-made pool made for Hannah, but the water is also changed weekly and when it gets hot outside, she knows just how to make a splash.
"Yeah, she loves her pool," said Andy who showed us a video of Hannah carefully wading in, taking a deep breath then performing an underwater roll.
"She does it all the time we call it her little ballerina or water ballet," laughed Andy.
Another video shows Hannah covered in mud and straw and sleeping in until two o'clock in the afternoon. Some might say Hannah has let herself go a bit, but wouldn't you do the same if you were the happiest hippo living large in 'Hippo Heaven'?
"It is, it truly is," said Andy. "She is probably living a better life than I am. Don't tell my wife."
San Diego Humane Society added its 13-acre Ramona Campus in 2020 by acquiring the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center from the Humane Society of the United States. Joining the existing Bahde Wildlife Center in San Diego, the Ramona Wildlife Center has expanded its lifesaving capacity to include the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of native apex predators, including bobcats, coyotes, and bears.
The San Diego Humane Society's Ramona Wildlife Center is home to 22 ambassador animals. If you'd like more information about how you can help the animals click here.
WATCH RELATED: 2 orphaned bear cubs in care at San Diego Humane Society’s Ramona Wildlife Center (Sept 2021)