MEMPHIS, TENN. - It is with great sadness that the Memphis Zoo announces the death of one of its most beloved animals. "Julie" the hippopotamus died March 16 at the age of 51 after her health began to dramatically decline earlier this month.
As Zoo keepers and veterinarians began to notice her decline, she was put on Zoo hospice care to closely monitor her health and keep her as comfortable as possible. Out of the Zoo's deep love for this animal, the decision was made to euthanize her in order to avoid prolonging any suffering.
Julie was born at the Memphis Zoo to parents "Adonis" and "Josephine" on July 8, 1961. She spent her entire life in Memphis. She lived a long, full life, producing ten offspring. Her last two calves are well-known in the Memphis community. Twins "Splish" and "Splash," named by native Memphian Cybill Shepherd, were born on Christmas Day 1988. Splish still resides in the Memphis Zoo. Splash was transferred from Memphis in 1990. The birth of hippo twins is a rare occurrence, and these newborns quickly became a media sensation. They were featured on the cover of LIFE magazine in March 1989 and also received mentions from USA Today and "Good Morning America."
Julie is preceded in death by her mate, "Ubei," who died of problems related to arthritis in 1995. He was 41, and was the father of all her calves. Julie and Splish come from a Memphis hippo lineage dating all the way back to 1914.Memphis, once dubbed "the hippo capital of the world," has seen many hippos come and go. In the early years, it was equally famous for its hippo keeper, Lestzler Taylor, affectionately known at the Zoo as "the hippo man."
"He was confident, but always showed kindness and a necessary deference toward Julie and the other animals," said Houston Winbigler, Memphis Zoo Assistant Curator. "One day he was moving the animals around so the vets could get a better look at her calf. Julie had enough and sharply swung her head so quickly and powerfully that she broke bones in Taylor's hand. He finished helping the vet with the exam, left the area and before leaving for the doctor, he praised Julie for being such a good momma."Each of Julie's caretakers has fond memories of her time in Memphis."Julie was able to take care of herself," said Winbigler. "She never tolerated too much roughness from her mate. She was, indeed, a remarkable mother and took admirable care of all of her babies including the twins, Splish and Splash."
"During my zoo career I've had the fortune to work with four hippos," said Herb Roberts, Memphis Zoo Curator. "Julie by far had the best temperament. She was calm, reliable and easy to work with. She enjoyed spending time with her keepers as well as her daughter Splish. I think she considered them all part of her herd. I know she was part of my herd, and I will miss her greatly."
"Julie has been one of the Zoo favorites," said Gail Karr, Memphis Zoo Assistant Curator. "I have been at the Memphis Zoo 27 years. In a way I grew up with her. She has been a figurehead, and it will be hard to imagine her not here. All Zoo staff members have a heavy heart today as we say goodbye to the Memphis Zoo's oldest resident."
"It was a privilege getting to work with Julie and a great experience as a keeper," said Sara Taylor, Memphis Zoo Keeper. "She was feisty until the end. She will definitely be missed by my co-worker, Dena Mandino and me, but most importantly by her sassy daughter, Splish. We hope our Julie has gone to a new swimming hole and is busy frolicking with the Memphis Zoo hippos that went before her."
"Julie and the other hippos (past and present) are the face of the Memphis Zoo, due to our great successes dating from 1914," said Carol Hesch, Memphis Zoo Assistant Curator. "When I came down for my interview in December 1988, Julie had just given birth to the twins and I believe they were 3-4 days old. She was a great animal with an engaging personality and has aged gracefully. She will be missed, but her line and that of the original Memphis Zoo hippos will hopefully be continued through Splish."
The Memphis Zoo will work with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to acquire a new companion for Splish at the Zoo's hippo exhibit.Plans are currently under way for constructing the Zoo's new hippo home, Zambezi River Hippo Camp. This exhibit will feature a state-of-the-art environment for the hippos, complete with underwater viewing areas. Zambezi will also house Nile crocodiles, okapis, mandrill baboons and flamingos. Funds are still being raised, and expected completion date is Spring 2015.